Log In

Reset Password

One mother’s crusade to make PA’s roads safer

The passage last week of a bill that will ban motorists from handling cellphones on Pennsylvania roadways was a testament to the determination of one grieving mother from Scranton whose son was killed by a distracted tractor-trailer driver in Monroe County in 2010.

Known as “Paul Miller’s Law,” the measure, expected to be signed this week by Gov. Josh Shapiro, will impose a fine of $50 for first offenders and add additional jail time for those convicted of homicide by vehicle in crashes involving cellphone use. It aligns Pennsylvania with 28 other states that forbid drivers from using hand-held cellphones, including all of the states that border the Commonwealth.

The law exempts the use of hands-free systems, but it does apply to drivers stopped at traffic lights or sitting in traffic.

Miller’s mother, Eileen Woelkers Miller, who became a traffic safety advocate after the death of her 21-year-old son, lobbied tirelessly for its passage in the General Assembly for more than a decade.

That such a common-sense measure took so long to become law illustrates the difficulties of navigating the competing and often conflicting interests in Harrisburg. The measure finally won majority approval with the addition of language requiring state police and police in municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants to collect and publicly report data on traffic stops, including the reason for the stop, details from a search of the vehicle and the race, ethnicity, age and gender of the driver.

The traffic-stop reporting language was sought by the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, which feared the new law could be used for racial profiling. State police recently began voluntarily collecting and reporting that information and some municipalities already do so, but this bill brings uniformity to the process, making for easier utilization of the data.

In that sense, the law achieves two worthy goals, promoting transparency and accountability in policing and making Pennsylvania’s roads safer. Who hasn’t encountered distracted phone users on the Commonwealth’s highways straying from their lanes or slowing down or speeding up in unpredictable ways?

Statistics show that in most years, distracted driving is the second- or third-leading cause of accidents in Pennsylvania, ahead of alcohol use, careless passing and tailgating.

For the first year after the bill is signed into law, violators pulled over for cellphone use will be issued just a warning. The data collection provision will go into effect after 18 months.

For Paul’s Miller mother, the achievement is necessarily a bittersweet one, but all Pennsylvanians owe a debt of gratitude to her and the legislators who labored over the years to finally make the bill that bears his name into law.