Distracted driving is an ongoing problem throughout the United States, and many state legislatures have taken to enacting laws to prevent distracted driving accidents. Effective November 4, a new Pennsylvania law adds additional jail time to drivers who cause accidents from distracted driving. Under this new law, if you cause an accident resulting in injury or death due to texting while driving, you could face two to five years in prison.
Texting while driving is the most common and most fatal type of distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported more than 3,400 fatalities in 2016 alone from distracted driving.
Understanding Distracted Driving
Three main types of distraction can interfere with a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle:
- Visual distractions. Anything that pulls driver’s eyes away from the road ahead is a visual distraction. This can include roadside attractions, police activity, accidents involving other vehicles, or looking at a cell phone screen.
- Manual distractions. These include anything requiring the use of the driver’s hands. If the driver uses his or her hands to rummage through a purse, operate the stereo, or type out a text message, his or her hands are not on the wheel as they should be.
- Cognitive distractions. These are anything that diverts a driver’s attention away from driving. If you had a stressful day at work or an emotional conversation with a loved one before driving, it’s important to focus on the road to prevent accidents. Trying to focus on a text conversation while driving is another form of cognitive distraction.
Texting behind the wheel is so dangerous because it essentially encompasses all three main types of distraction into one action. The new Daniel’s Law in Pennsylvania aims to further discourage texting behind the wheel by dramatically increasing the legal penalties for doing so. The new law received its name after 68-year-old Daniel Gallatin suffered fatal injuries due to a distracted driver who was texting behind the wheel.
The woman who killed Daniel only served a 60-day prison sentence, which encouraged the family to petition the state for harsher penalties for distracted drivers that cause injuries or fatalities. Under Daniel’s Law, a driver who causes serious bodily injury due to distracted driving will receive up to two additional years of jail time. A driver who causes a fatality will receive up to five years additional jail time.
These new laws shouldn’t be the only encouragement Pennsylvania drivers need to stay off their cell phones while driving. Even glancing at a cell phone for a few seconds can mean traveling hundreds of feet while essentially blind. It is never worth the risk to drive distracted, so keep the following tips in mind to prevent distracted driving-related accidents:
- Turn off your cell phone while driving, or at least turn it on silent. If you are expecting an urgent call, wait to start driving until you’re finished. It’s best to turn your phone off or put it into silent mode while behind the wheel so you don’t feel tempted to check it if you receive a message.
- Use a hands-free device. Instead of trying to respond to text messages or emails behind the wheel, a hands-free device can allow you to answer phone calls safely. However, it’s vital to only use such devices if they are legal in your area and it is safe to do so.
- Plan your trips. If you are heading into unfamiliar territory, it’s a good idea to map your route and know the directions before leaving. This will prevent you from using a cell phone to navigate when you should be watching the road. If you have a passenger with you, ask him or her to navigate for you so you can focus on driving.
- When in doubt, pull over. If you truly feel compelled to check the message you just received, try to pull into a parking lot or other safe area to do so.
It’s vital for Pennsylvania drivers to remember these tips to prevent distracted driving accidents. After November 4, the penalties for violations will increase significantly, so start cultivating safer behaviors today. IF you need help with your case, call a Lancaster criminal defense lawyer today.