Is it legal to use your phone while driving in PA?

In 2015 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission (NHTSC), 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Every day, roughly 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while behind the wheel. Is communication that important? Assuredly not! Still, between 20 percent and 30 percent of all accidents are now caused by distracted drivers.

Teenagers, those constant texters, are the biggest age group found to be distracted at the time of deadly crashes, and texting is by far the most dangerous distraction. While talking on the phone, a person, though distracted, can at least see what’s in front of him. By contrast, sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for several seconds—plenty of time for a tragedy to happen.

As with other laws, states vary when it comes to driving and using a phone or, as the law puts it, Interactive Wireless Communication Device (IWCD). So, if you will be driving out of state, get informed concerning the local law.

Here in Pennsylvania the Department of Motor Vehicle law states that:

no driver shall operate a motor vehicle on a highway or trafficway in this Commonwealth while using an interactive wireless communications device to send, read or write a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion. A person does not send, read or write a text-based communication when the person reads, selects or enters a telephone number or name in an interactive wireless communications device for the purpose of activating or deactivating a voice communication or a telephone call.

A close reader will have noticed that this paragraph does not mention talking while driving. Drivers are allowed to make phone calls while driving from a handheld or hands free device. (The Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles does recommend that drivers pull over to the side of the road if possible, that they use a hands free device, and that they do not talk about anything distressing.)

The phrase while in motion is also critical. It makes a big difference, from a legal point of view, if the vehicle is not in motion while a driver sends or reads a text.

Pennsylvania law prohibits texting for drivers of all ages and all license statuses. Specifically, one may not use an IWCD to read, write, or send text communications (again, while the vehicle is in motion).

The following devices are considered an IWCD:

  • Personal digital assistant
  • Smart phone
  • Wireless phone
  • Portable or mobile computer
  • Similar devices as listed above that can be used for instant messaging, texting, emailing, or browsing the Internet

The texting ban does not include the use of a GPS device, a system or device that is physically or electronically integrated into the vehicle, or a communications device that is affixed to a mass transit vehicle, bus, or school bus.

A law enforcement officer can pull a driver over for breaking the texting while driving law, because this is a primary law. That is to say, no other traffic offense must be involved for the driver to receive a ticket or citation for texting while driving.

The penalty for texting while driving is a summary offense. The fine is $50, not including court costs and other fees.

The violation carries no points as a penalty and is not recorded on the driver record for non-commercial drivers. It is recorded on commercial drivers’ records as a non-sanction violation.

The law does not authorize the seizure of an IWCD.



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