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Shapiro signs Paul Miller’s Law allowing police to ticket distracted drivers using handheld devices

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks with Eileen Miller on Wednesday, June 5, 2024, after signing a distracted driving law Miller championed. Miller’s son Paul Miller Jr., died in 2010 when a distracted tractor trailer driver crossed a highway median in Monroe County and slammed into his car. Eileen Miller’s husband Paul Miller Sr. is in the background. (Credit: Commonwealth Media Services)

Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
June 5, 2024

Nearly 12 years after a grieving mother approached state Sen. Rosemary Brown at a community meeting and asked her to support a tougher distracted driving law, Gov. Josh Shapiro on Wednesday signed a ban on using handheld electronics behind the wheel.

Eileen Miller’s 21-year-old son was killed in 2010 when a distracted truck driver crossed a highway median in Monroe County and slammed into his car. Brown (R-Monroe), who was then a new state representative, said Miller’s tears and determination moved her to keep pushing the legislation through six legislative sessions.

“I knew it was right,” Brown said during a signing ceremony Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Capitol. “And I knew it was absolutely necessary to do our best to change the behavior of drivers behind the wheel when using a cell phone to prevent crashes.”

Named for Miller’s son, Paul Miller Jr., the new law allows police to stop and ticket drivers spotted using handheld smartphones, tablets and other devices while on the road. It takes effect in one year but for the first year police will issue warnings. After that, the offense carries a $50 fine.

“I got it done, Paul,” Eileen Miller said, recalling that she had made a promise to her son when she identified his body.  “This is not just for Paul. This is for every family that is in Pennsylvania that doesn’t have to have state troopers knocking on their door to tell them that their loved one was killed by something so preventable as distracted driving.”

The law, which is the 29th such measure in the nation, also requires state police and municipal police in towns of 5,000 people or more to gather data on the race, ethnicity, gender and age of a driver and other details during a traffic stop. 

That amendment to Brown’s bill, passed in the state House in April, was a priority of the Black Legislative Caucus, Chairperson Napoleon Nelson (D-Montgomery) said. The reporting requirement increases transparency and ensures that when police take action to ensure road safety, “that they are not doing so at the risk of marginalized communities.”

The legislative effort to prevent distracted driving predates Paul Miller Jr.’s death, Shapiro said before signing the law. In 2008, Jacy Good was driving home with her parents after graduating from Muhlenberg College when a distracted driver caused a tractor-trailer to swerve into their car.

Good’s parents died and she was left permanently disabled, Shapiro said. Meeting Good persuaded him to sponsor legislation to end distracted driving. And while Pennsylvania enacted a ban on texting while driving in 2012, other uses of smartphones remained legal.

“People like Jacy and Eileen believed and never ever, ever gave up. And thank God, they didn’t. We’re all better off because of their determination,” Shapiro said, noting that the 11,000 distracted driving crashes last year in Pennsylvania exceeded the number of crashes involving alcohol. 

In states that have passed similar bans, the number of distracted driving crashes has declined significantly, Shapiro said. 

Rep. Donna Bullock (D-Philadelphia), a former chairperson of the Black Legislative Caucus, said a renewed effort to pass distracted driving legislation coincided with a national focus on police shootings and other incidents stemming from traffic stops involving Black and brown people. 

Bullock said she looked to Massachusetts, where state officials had conducted a pilot study on whether a distracted driving law would have the potential to increase pretextual traffic stops based on the race or skin color of the driver.

“What we found … is we couldn’t do the pilot because we didn’t have the statewide collection, coordinated collection of police data or traffic stop data,” Bullock said. 

The amendment championed by Bullock and Nelson will keep police accountable while providing data to improve public safety, Shapiro said, adding that it is an example of what Democrats and Republicans can accomplish when they come together to make Pennsylvanians’ lives “a little bit better.”

“Compromise is how we make our roadways safer,” Shapiro said. “Compromise is how we hear the pleas of a mom that are ultimately going to save the lives of other children across this commonwealth. Compromise is how we get things done.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.