Pennsylvania legislators should continue with efforts to prohibit texting or using handheld cell phones while driving, despite a new insurance industry report that finds similar laws in other states haven't reduced accidents.
Last week the state House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that generally would prohibit drivers from using a handheld cell phone, personal digital assistant, laptop or similar devices while driving.
Violators generally would face a $50 fine.
The bill includes exceptions for contacting 911 centers and for using navigation devices and calls made on built-in and hands-free voice communications systems.
But it would ban all cell phone use by any driver holding a learner's permit or junior license.
The final vote was 189-6, with nearly all area representatives present voting for the measure. Rep. Rick Geist, R-Altoona, who co-sponsored the bill, was on leave and absent at the time of the vote, the state House Web site shows.
For many people, few things are more unnerving than to see a motorist talking on a cell phone or punching numbers and letters into one while driving.
Yet it's something one can see almost any day on any road. You wonder whether the driver is paying more attention to the conversation or the road ahead.
And even those who are quick to point a finger at others too often are willing to pull out their own cell phones to make or take a call, retrieve a message or send a text - often to the fright of their passengers.
While motorists generally are sure about their own ability to call or text while driving, that same confidence doesn't extend to others.
In July, the Senate passed a bill banning texting while driving, but it did not include a prohibition of using a handheld cell phone. A key aide told Capitolwire that senators would take a look at the handheld cell phone ban in the House measure, but he wasn't sure there were enough votes to pass it.
Finding those votes might be more difficult given a new report by the Highway Loss Data Institute that found similar texting and handheld cell phone bans in California, New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., have not resulted in fewer vehicle crashes.
The institute said it is trying to determine why the results of its latest study don't mesh with known information about the danger of distracted driving.
Certainly, there are many things that can take a driver's attention off the road, and all of them pose a danger. But few have become as common as the use of cell phones and texting while driving.
And while we may know that texting or using a cell phone while driving are dangerous, as long as it remains legal, there is little to discourage such actions.
The potential of a fine may be enough to save us from ourselves - and perhaps increase the safety of others on the roadway to boot.