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New Law Enhances Penalties for Texting While Driving

December 22, 2016

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

This month, Governor Tom Wolf signed House Bill 853 into law, which enhances the penalties for those convicted of texting and driving. If you or a loved one were recently involved in a car accident that involved texting, it is critical to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your interests.

Current Law

In Pennsylvania, it is against the law to use a wireless device to send, read, or write a text-based communication while operating a vehicle, although this prohibition does not include reading, selecting, or entering a telephone number or name in a device for the purpose of activating or deactivating a telephone call. Under the terms of the statute, text-based communication includes a variety of different types of communication, such as:

  • Text messages;
  • Instant messages;
  • Electronic mail; and
  • Other written communication composed or received on an interactive wireless communications device.

According to the terms of 75 Pa. C.S. 3732, any driver who is convicted of texting while driving can be sentenced to two years in prison if the violation resulted in serious bodily injury. If the accident led to the death of another person, the jail sentence can be increased to five years.

While this law is primarily aimed at drivers who cause accidents because of texting, these enhanced penalties also apply to drivers conceited of other traffic violations. For instance, Pennsylvania law requires that when an emergency vehicle using audible and visible signals approaches, all other drivers on the road must yield the right-of-way. This also includes immediately moving to a position that is parallel to and as close as possible to the right side of the road. Drivers are then required to stop and remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed. The only exception to this rule is when a police officer directs a driver to act otherwise. Finally, the enhanced penalties also apply to those who are convicted of violating a law that requires drivers who pass an emergency response area to either:

  • Pass in a lane not adjacent to the area, or;
  • In the event that passing in a non-adjacent lane is impossible, illegal, or unsafe, pass the emergency response area at a careful reduced speed.

Emergency response areas can include any of the following locations:

  • Areas where emergency responders are rendering assistance to those on or near a roadway; or
  • Areas where a police officer is conducting a traffic stop or a systematic check of vehicles, or directing traffic.

These areas also include locations where contractors or employees of a public utility, a city owned utility, or an electric cooperative provide disaster emergency-related services, including the repair, renovation, and installation of damaged or destroyed infrastructure.

How an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

The recently enacted law significantly changes the possible penalties for those whose actions may have caused or contributed to an accident, so if you were recently charged with causing bodily injury or death through the violation of a traffic law, please contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim at (215) 486-0123 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.



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