On November 4, 2016, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law House Bill 2025, nicknamed “Daniel’s Law,” to promote better road safety by reducing the number of auto accidents caused by distracted driving. Named for Daniel Gallatin, a father, volunteer firefighter, and military veteran who was killed in a fatal motorcycling accident caused by a texting driver, Daniel’s Law increases Pennsylvania’s criminal penalties for texting while driving.
Fatal PA Motorcycle Accident Prompts Tougher Penalties for Texting While Driving
On May 7, 2013, 68-year-old Harlansburg resident Daniel Gallatin was riding his Kawasaki motorcycle down Route 956 in Hickory Township, a small town located in Pennsylvania’s Lawrence County. Gallatin, who was returning home from a visit with his daughter, was killed in a fatal rear-end collision that occurred when an SUV struck his motorcycle from behind. Despite paramedics’ efforts, Gallatin was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.
Police who responded to the scene reported that the SUV’s driver, 43-year-old Laura Gargiulo, was distracted by text messages when the accident occurred. According to court documents subsequently filed in the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas, Gallatin “was slowing down to make a right turn” when the accident occurred. After their vehicles collided, Gallatin “was pinned and dragged under the [SUV] approximately 100 feet,” causing his death.
“This behavior, which has been allowed to go under-punished for far too long, has been demonstrated to be just as dangerous as drunk driving,” said Governor Wolf at the bill-signing ceremony. “Distracted driving has fatal, irreversible, and grave consequences and by signing this bill, I hope to make our roads and highways safer for our citizens, and everyone using them.”
“I was honored to stand up for the Gallatin family when they came to me after suffering this horrible tragedy,” said former Pennsylvania Representative Jaret Gibbons (D-Beaver/Butler/Lawrence), who authored the underlying bill, HB 583, after Gallatin was killed in his district.
“While we cannot bring Dan Gallatin back,” he added, “at least his family will know that through this law, his loss will help to save lives.”
Statistics Show Motorcyclists Killed at 26 Times the Rate of Other Auto Accident Victims
Despite being criminally charged with vehicular homicide – a third degree felony under 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3732 – Gargiulo was fined just $250, and was sentenced to less than two years. She was paroled after serving just two months of her sentence.
“My father was dead, and the person responsible spent only 60 days in jail,” said daughter Michelle Gallatin-Baughman, addressing a crowd of over 200 at the bill-signing ceremony. Some of them, like Hanover resident Teresa Gill, were avid motorcyclists who drove hours to attend the ceremony.
“This is important to us bikers,” Gill explained, “to everyone on the roads.”
Gill was right to ascribe such significance to the moment, especially as a motorcyclist. According to 2013 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclist fatalities occurred 26 times more frequently than passenger car occupant fatalities in traffic crashes.”
Motorcyclists also have a much greater risk of suffering a non-fatal injury, such as whiplash, a broken bone, or a traumatic brain injury. NHTSA data shows that in 2013, the auto accident injury rate was 78 injuries per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT); but for motorcycles, the rate was nearly six times higher at 434 injuries per 100 million VMT.
“Our desire,” Rep. Gibbons said, “was to prevent more senseless loss of life. And if anyone makes the tragic mistake of texting while driving and harms or kills someone, the consequences would be in line with the grievous nature of the decision.”
Daniel’s Law adds the following section to Pennsylvania’s vehicular homicide statute under 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3732(b)(1.1):
“In addition to any other penalty provided by law, a person convicted of [vehicular homicide] as the result of a violation of [Pennsylvania’s statute against texting while driving]… who is [also] convicted of [texting while driving]… may be sentenced to an additional term not to exceed five years’ confinement when the violation resulted in death.”
In other words, texting while driving can add up to five years to a prison sentence for vehicular homicide if a person is killed as a consequence of such texting.
“My dad would have been crazy embarrassed by the turnout for him,” son Brian Gallatin told the crowd of bikers and firefighters who gathered for the bill-signing ceremony. “But he would have been so proud of what you were able to do.”
Philadelphia Motorcycle Injury Lawyer Handling Distracted Driving Accident Claims
Hopefully, Daniel’s Law will significantly diminish the number of car accidents, truck accidents, and motorcycle accidents that are caused by texting while driving in Pennsylvania each year. However, Daniel’s Law is just the beginning. It will require a sustained and aggressive national effort to cut down on distracted driving, which, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, was responsible for causing 431,000 injuries and 3,179 deaths in 2014 alone. That’s more than 1,180 injuries and nearly nine fatalities on every day of 2014 – all from a cause which, tragically, is entirely avoidable.
If you or one of your loved ones was injured in a car accident that you believe was caused by a distracted driver, injury compensation may be available, including compensation for medical bills and lost earnings. An experienced Philadelphia car accident lawyer like Brent Wieand can help you fight for the compensation you deserve.
Founder of the Wieand Law Firm, LLC, Brent Wieand is an aggressive auto accident attorney handling personal injury and wrongful death claims throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To talk about your automotive accident claim in a free legal consultation, call the Wieand Law Firm, LLC at (800) 481-5206 today.
*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes. It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice. The Wieand Law Firm, LLC is based in Philadelphia, PA, and proud to serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.*