Pennsylvania's Distracted Driving Laws: Your Guide | Trusted Choice

Pennsylvania Distracted Driving

A Guide to Pennsylvania's Distracted Driving Laws

(It's more than just not texting.)

Jessica Huneck | February 27, 2020
Distracted driving laws in pennsylvania

There are roughly 128,000 car accidents every year in Pennsylvania. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Pennsylvania defines distracted driving as “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.” It can include anything from adjusting the radio dial to looking up directions on your cell phone while you're behind the wheel.

Distracted Driving Statistics in Pennsylvania

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Pennsylvania:

  • According to PennDOT, distracted driving was a factor in more than 15,000 Pennsylvania crashes in 2017.
  • Law enforcement officers in PA issued 3,336 citations for distracted driving in 2016.
  • In 2017, that number jumped to 5,054 citations – a 51% increase.
  • Montgomery County drivers received the most citations, followed by Allegheny County.

Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Pennsylvania

Top causes of car accidents in Pennsylvania

Believe it or not, distracted driving is the second leading cause of driver-error accidents in Pennsylvania. In fact, you are more likely to be in an accident that was caused by a distracted driver than you are to be in an accident caused by a drunk driver. That should drive home how serious a risk distracted driving is.

*Proceed without clearance-10%, Tailgating-7%, Careless/illegal passing-5%, Drowsy drivers-3%

Does Pennsylvania Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

In 2012, a statewide ban on texting while driving was rolled out. This makes it illegal to use any portable wireless device to send or receive text messages, emails, or other communications while operating a motor vehicle.

Then in 2017, “Daniel’s Law” was enacted. This adds some serious criminal penalties for a driver if their texting causes serious injuries or death while they are texting.

In 2019, State Rep. Rosemary Brown introduced a bill that would make it illegal for all drivers to use handheld devices and for drivers under the age of 18 to use any cell phones, even if they're doing it hands-free. While this plan was given the green light by the Transportation Committee in mid-June, to date it is still not a law.

Are There Any Exceptions to Pennsylvania's Distracted Driving Laws?

Yes. 

Pennsylvania’s texting ban does not include the use of GPS or a system that's physically or electronically integrated into the vehicle. Use of these electronic devices while driving is still legal.

Pennsylvania state law also allows the use of handheld devices when the vehicle is not in motion. This means that you can respond to a text while sitting at a red light or stopped in a traffic jam.

Pennsylvania Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?
               X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?               X               
Handheld device use permitted?               X
Special restriction for young drivers?
               X
Headphone /headset use permitted?
               X

Can I Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in Pennsylvania?

Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.

Distracted driving comes in many forms. From actions like texting or watching a video while driving to the less obvious distractions of searching for your sunglasses or eating a cheeseburger, anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving presents a hazard.

So, what happens if a Pennsylvania state trooper spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There is no law that specifically states that you cannot eat while driving in this state.

However, eating while driving could cause you to swerve into another lane or lose focus and commit a moving violation, and you could be pulled over for that.  

Unless you're really in a hurry, you'd be better off eating that cheeseburger indoors or sitting in the parking lot.

What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws. 

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Pennsylvania uses primary enforcement.

This means that even if you are obeying all traffic laws and believe that you are in total control of your vehicle, you can receive a citation if a police officer sees you texting while driving.

What Is the Penalty for Distracted Driving in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, if you are cited for distracting driving, you will be charged with a summary offense that comes with a $50 fine, plus court costs, a surcharge, and other fees. Because of all the additional fees, a distracted driving ticket actually ends up costing more than $100. 

With the signing of Daniel’s Law in 2016 (which went into effect in 2017), tougher penalties are assigned if a motorist causes injuries or death to another while texting behind the wheel. In this case, violating the texting ban is now a criminal offense and the driver can face:

  • A two-year jail sentence for causing “serious bodily injury” while texting, or
  • A five-year jail sentence for causing a fatality while texting

Pennsylvania compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Lawmakers in most states have taken action to outlaw texting while driving, and as time goes on, most of the remaining states are expected to follow suit.

Does Distracted Driving in Pennsylvania Increase Insurance Rates?

Citations for distracted driving in Pennsylvania do not add points to your license and are only included on your driving record if you have a commercial driver's license.

This means that for non-commercial drivers, a citation for distracted driving will not increase insurance rates. However, if you committed a moving violation or caused an accident while you were texting, you can expect that to increase your rates.

What If I Use My Phone While Driving into New York or Ohio?

Distracted driving laws vary by state, so if you drive into a neighboring state that has different laws, you may wonder if you are exempted from following them.

While you are currently permitted to make phone calls using a handheld device in Pennsylvania, hands-free calling is required in New York. Also, younger drivers in Pennsylvania are currently permitted to use cell phones while driving, but if they drive into Ohio, it's illegal, even if they're using Bluetooth technology.

Be aware that once you cross state lines, you're required to follow the laws of the state you are in. Claiming ignorance will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to review the  laws of neighboring states before taking a road trip.

What Is Pennsylvania Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving?

In addition to working to create stronger distracted driving laws, Pennsylvania’s state Senate has designated April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month in the state. During this month, police are extra-vigilant while looking for distracted drivers, and local police departments focus on getting the word out about the dangers of distracted driving.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

Now, who's ready to get their insurance problems solved?