It’s been 14 years since Paul Miller Jr. was killed when a tractor-trailer driver in Monroe County lost control of his rig as he reached for his cellphone, crossed a grass median and struck Miller’s car and a van with 12 people in it.

On Wednesday, his mother, Eileen Miller, got the solace she has long been seeking when Gov. Josh Shapiro signed a law named for her son that bans drivers in Pennsylvania from using a hand-held cellphone.

“Finally, after 12 years, we did it,” Miller said, choking back tears during a news conference for the signing.

Miller recalled making a pledge as she identified her son’s body that she would do everything she could to make something good come from his death. At every legislative session since her son died, she lobbied the Legislature to make it illegal for drivers to use hand-held cellphones, adapting proposed bills several times before reaching the right recipe earlier this year.

“I got it done, Paul. I did it,” she said. “This isn’t just for Paul … Pennsylvania, this is a step in the right direction.”

Under the new law, using a hand-held cellphone while driving is a primary offense, which means police officers can issue a citation to anyone they see using a phone while driving. Drivers also aren’t allowed to text, scan the internet, send or read email or instant messages, play games, use social media, or watch or make videos.

For the first year, drivers will receive a warning for violating the law while the state expands its education program, which state police Col. Christopher Paris called “a key component” of the law. Thereafter, the fine will be $50 for first-time offenders while distracted drivers who cause deaths could be sentenced to five years in prison, longer if the death occurred in a work zone.

The law also requires those with a learner’s permit to receive “additional driving experience and education on distracted driving” before they take their driving test. The state drivers manual also will have an expanded section on distracted driving.

Pennsylvania is the 29th state to adopt legislation setting penalties for distracted driving.

Over the years, Miller worked closely with state Sen. Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe County, initially when Brown was a state representative. She said she targeted Brown for support because, “I knew you were a mom. I knew you would do it.”

For her part, Brown said she never expected the legislation to take as long as it did to pass. But she worked over the years with caucus leaders of both parties to eventually create a law that will “change the behavior of drivers behind the wheel” and offers “a beacon of protection for every driver in Pennsylvania.”

A key provision of the bill, pushed by the Black Legislative Caucus, requires police officers to acquire and report demographic information for anyone they pull over for violating the cellphone law. That will make sure the law protects public safety but isn’t used to harass minority drivers, said state Rep. Napoleon Nelson, D-Montgomery County, who chairs the caucus.

“This law is a shining example of responsible legislation that will both improve public safety and enhance transparency,” Nelson said.

Shapiro said he was involved in similar legislation two years before Miller’s death, when a distracted driver on a cellphone caused a tractor-trailer to swerve and strike a vehicle carrying Jacy Good and her parents while they were driving home from her graduation from Muhlenberg College in Allentown. Jean and Jay Good died, and Jacy was left permanently disabled.

The governor said he considers passage of the compromise bill an example of what can happen when Democrats and Republicans work together. He called the bill “commonsense legislation to stop distracted driving” and said he expects a substantial reduction in crashes involving a distracted driver, which numbered more than 11,000 in the state last year.

To Miller, the law should send a clear message that driving while using a hand-held cellphone is a bad idea.

“There’s nothing so important. Pull over.”

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at