HARRISBURG - Two bills to put additional restrictions on young drivers and distracted drivers are moving to the state Senate after approval by the House on Tuesday.
One limits the number of passengers that junior drivers, those ages 16 and 17, may have in their car, and requires junior drivers to wear seat belts or risk being stopped by police.
The second bill is aimed at reducing careless or distracted driving, such as cellphone use or eating, drinking, combing hair, or putting on makeup while driving.
However, such an offense would be considered secondary, meaning police would have to stop a driver for another reason, such as speeding or running a red light, before issuing a ticket for careless driving.
The junior driver bill was sponsored by Rep. Katharine Watson (R., Bucks), who said auto accidents are the leading cause of deaths of teens. Her legislation, House Bill 9, would increase, from 50 to 65, the number of hours of practice a teen must have to get a license, and stipulate that some of the hours must be at night and in bad weather.
A junior driver could have no more than one teen passenger at a time, to cut down on chatting and other distractions. There is an exception for young siblings, meaning more than one younger brother or sister would be allowed.
Junior drivers could be stopped by police if they are not wearing seat belts. Some lawmakers asked Watson how police could tell if an unbelted young driver was 16 or 17, since some youths in their 20s look like teenagers. She said that if a police officer stops a car and the unbelted driver turns out to be 18 or older, the officer would just let him go.
Failure to wear a seat belt is a secondary offense for those 18 or older, meaning a police officer has to have another reason, such as speeding, to stop a car, and can add the lack of a seat belt as a second offense.
According to a recent poll, Watson said, "people agree there need to be additional restrictions on young drivers to make them better and safer drivers."
The bill was approved, 175-21. Violations carry a $75 fine. It now goes to the Senate, which in the past has wanted to limit unrelated teens in a car to three, rather than just one.
The House also approved House Bill 896, by Rep. Chris Ross (R., Chester), which aims at reducing distractions while driving, such as talking on a cellphone, sending text messages or e-mailing, using a "personal grooming device" while driving, eating, drinking, or reading "any printed material." The bill would not pertain to drivers who glance at a global positioning system device in their vehicle, however.
But a police officer could ticket a so-called distracted driver only after the driver had already been pulled over for a more serious violation, such as speeding, running a red light, or other form of careless or reckless driving. The "distracted" offense would add an additional $50 to whatever fine the driver got for the initial offense.
The money from fines would go into a new pot called the Driver Distraction Awareness Fund and would be used to publicize the behavior that would now be banned and to conduct programs about the dangers of not paying attention while operating a vehicle.