Tougher rules for teen drivers in Pa. don’t go far enough

A ban on teens texting while driving is missing from the new law

When Gov. Tom Corbett soon signs into law a long-awaited bill that enacts tougher rules for teen drivers, it will be a good day for the Commonwealth’s teen drivers.

In almost every way, it will be a good start toward making teen drivers safer in Pennsylvania, but sadly, the law was diluted before it passed the state House and Senate.

What was left out?

A teen-aged boy texts while driving in this stock photo. Image credit: ©

A teen-aged boy texts while driving in this stock photo. Image credit: ©

Would you believe a ban on texting while driving for teen-aged drivers?

That’s right. A texting band was omitted from the soon-to-be-enacted legislation.

Such a rule was included in earlier versions of proposed tougher teen driving laws in the last several years, but it was apparently left out while state legislators work on a separate bill that will deal directly with texting and driving for drivers of all ages.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer hope that that wasn’t a huge mistake and that a bill to ban texting while driving is soon finally able to make its way onto the governor’s desk. In recent years, that’s been a difficult goal to reach.

So what are the key provisions of the tougher new teen driving rules?

First, 16-year-old drivers who operate a vehicle under a junior license will be limited to carrying only one passenger in their vehicle for the first six months that they drive, unless they are members of the teen’s immediate family, according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer. If they complete the first six months of their junior license with a clean driving record, they can carry up to three passengers who are not in their immediate family. That takes effect until they are 18 years old, when they will no longer face restrictions on the number of passengers they can transport.

“The new law also will make driving without a seat belt a primary offense for teen drivers and their passengers – meaning police can pull over a vehicle for that violation without additional cause,” the paper reports. In addition, teen drivers will now have to undergo 65 hours of behind-the-wheel training, up from the current 50 hour requirement, the paper reports. That must now include 10 hours of driving at night and in inclement weather, which wasn’t mandatory previously.

The governor is expected to sign the bill by the beginning of October and it will go into effect on Nov. 28.

This new law is a smart move to protect teen drivers. “In 2010, fatalities in crashes involving a 16- or 17-year-old driver increased 43 percent over the previous year, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation,” the Inquirer reports.

Interestingly, Pennsylvania is one of only seven states that hadn’t yet toughened its teen driving laws.

Supporters of the new rules include the Pennsylvania AAA Federation, which is the association of AAA motor clubs in the Commonwealth.

Although teen driver passenger restrictions may put more teen drivers on the road, studies have shown that with a reduced number of young passengers, each of those teen drivers is a safer driver,” the Federation says in a press release. “In a recent poll of AAA members across the Commonwealth, 96 percent favored teen passenger limitations.”

The tighter rules are the right move, says Ted Leonard, executive director of the Federation, because “inexperienced young drivers are prone to peer pressure, inclined to take risks, are distracted by young passengers and tempted to multi-task behind the wheel.”

At the same time, he says, vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 16- to 19-year-olds. “This age group’s fatality rate is four times that of adults,” Leonard says. “It’s not only teen drivers, but their passengers and other drivers on the road who are at risk. That is why we strongly support this bill and urge Gov. Corbett to quickly sign it.”

In an editorial this week, The York Dispatch says that “the new rules will undoubtedly keep our youngest, least-experienced drivers safer,” but the paper correctly criticized the glaring omission – the absence of a teen texting ban in the bill.

The Dispatch editorial says the need for an overall texting ban for all drivers here makes sense, but the paper’s editorial board doesn’t understand it’s omission from this bill.

“In a study released last year, the National Safety Council estimated 28 percent of all crashes, or 1.6 million per year, are caused by either talking on a cell phone or text messaging,” the paper says. “Drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be in a crash, while drivers who text increase that risk to eight to 23 times, according to the council.”

The tougher laws for teen drivers are a great first step.

Now let’s finally get Pennsylvania up to date with laws that ban texting for all drivers on our roads.

Every day we seem to hear of tragic accidents caused by motorists of all ages who are texting while trying to drive their vehicles on our busy road network.

People are being seriously injured or killed in such crashes every day.

It’s time for the carnage to stop.

We urge you to contact your state legislators and demand that they enact a ban on texting while driving here in Pennsylvania.

Such a law would better protect you and your loved ones every day.

If you have been in such an accident and are seriously injured, the experienced and compassionate attorneys here at MyPhillyLawyer are here to help you every step of the way in your legal fight for all the damages you are entitled to receive.

Call us and we will be there.

When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.