Pennsylvania’s laws on drunk and distracted driving

Pennsylvania residents who are arrested for drunk driving face far harsher penalties than do people cited for texting while driving.

Most people in Pennsylvania do not dispute that driving while intoxicated can increase the chance of being involved in an accident. Similarly, texting while driving is also something that may cause an accident.

In fact, Distraction.gov indicates that in 2014, nearly 3,200 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted drivers. In addition, more than 430,000 people were injured in these accidents.

In that same year, 349 people died in drunk driving accidents in Pennsylvania according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Neighboring states experienced anywhere from 52 to 312 fatalities in accidents involving alcohol.

Clearly, both impaired and distracted driving can be risky behavior. It would stand to reason then that the state's laws would reflect this and drivers may face appropriate penalties for drunk and distracted driving. However, that is not the case.

What is Pennsylvania's law on distracted driving?

Pennsylvania is one of the few states that still permits handheld use of phones while driving. The state even allows teenage drivers, commercial drivers and school bus drivers to use phones while operating vehicles.

The only attempt to curb distracted driving in the state is a ban on texting while driving. People who break this law may be required to pay a $50 fine.

What are Pennsylvania's laws on drunk driving?

The laws on impaired driving in Pennsylvania are far harsher than those on distracted driving. A first offense for a person with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or 0.099 percent is a criminal misdemeanor. The fine for this offense may be $300 and a driver may serve up to six months of probation.

A first offense for a driver with a BAC over 0.10 percent may result in up to six months in jail, a fine up to $5,000 and the loss of driving privileges for 12 months. Under the state's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, some people charged with a first offense may serve a one-year supervised probation. However, under the ARD program individuals can avoid incarceration, reduce their license suspension and avoid having a criminal history.

How can drivers have their rights protected?

People who are arrested for suspected drunk driving have rights just like any other defendants. With a clear discrepancy in how the law approaches drunk driving relative to distracted driving, Pennsylvania residents facing impaired driving charges should always contact an attorney. Getting legal representation is an important way of protecting one's rights during a criminal defense process.