Pennsylvania ranks low in driving safety report


Posted on January 19, 2010 4:53 AM
By Megan Rogers
Collegian Staff Writer
Local lawmakers said they are in no rush to change driving laws, even though a recent report ranked Pennsylvania in the lowest category for driving safety legislation.
The report, released Monday by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, ranks states on how many of the group's 15 model laws are in effect. Model laws included a primary seatbelt law, a motorcycle helmet law, a minimum age of 16 to qualify for a drivers' permit, cell phone and texting restrictions and ignition-interlocks for drunk driving offenders.
Of the 15 laws, Pennsylvania only has 6.5 in place -- the state received half credit for a nighttime driving restriction for new drivers. Most notably missing is a primary seatbelt law.
Though the report does not put Pennsylvania in a good light, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said he was wary of overreacting based on one study. And he's very cautious of trying to govern drivers' every action.
"If we follow the report verbatim, it would be a very restrictive life," he said.
There has been an ongoing debate about whether Pennsylvania should make wearing a seatbelt a primary law. As it stands now, wearing a seatbelt is a secondary law -- police cannot pull a driver over for not wearing a seatbelt, but if drivers are not wearing a seatbelt when they are pulled over for another citation they can receive an additional fine, said Rich Kirkpatrick, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Texting is also a hot-button issue. While he does not approve of texting while driving, Benninghoff said he would not support legislation that would ban the behavior. New laws would be difficult to enforce, he said: Police have more important things to spend their time on than pulling people over for not wearing a seatbelt or sending a text.
And many Pennsylvanians do not want to see new driving safety laws, Benninghoff said. For him, the recent repealing of a law requiring riders to wear a motorcycle helmet shows that clearly enough. "People still want the liberty to make decisions on their own personal safety," he said.
Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, would like to see an effort to ban texting while driving, Tor Michaels, Conklin's chief of staff, said. Conklin would support sensible laws regarding phone usage while driving, he said. And he pointed out that the state missed out on federal money this past year because it did not have a primary seatbelt law.


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