Pennsylvania Gets Ban on Texting while Driving

Attractive Blonde Woman Text Messaging on Her Cell Phone While Driving.Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law Wednesday a measure that makes texting while driving a summary offense punishable by a $50 fine.

The legislation, which takes effect in four months, applies to sending, reading or receiving messages via any wireless communication device, but does not address talking on a cell phone behind the wheel.

“We’ve said it in the past, but today we are making it law: If you have an urgent need to text, you must pull over and park,” Corbett said in a news release. “If it’s not important enough to stop your car, then it’s certainly not important enough to risk a life.”

Pennsylvania joins 34 other states and Washington, D.C., in banning texting for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The Keystone State is one of 32 states that authorize primary enforcement of no-texting laws, which means that law enforcement officers may perform a traffic stop for no other reason than that they suspect a driver is sending or receiving messages.

The new law does not make it illegal to talk on a cell phone, hand-held or otherwise. And it stipulates that sending, reading or typing a name or telephone number into a wireless communication device does not constitute texting. The law exempts GPS and other navigation systems, along with devices that are built into vehicles and communications systems on board buses and other transit vehicles.

No state bans all cell phone use, according to GHSA, but nine states and the nation’s capital prohibit the use of hand-held phones while driving, and many other states prohibit phone use–including texting–by novice motorists and school bus drivers.

Texting while driving joins other traffic violations as a summary offense under Pennsylvania statutes, placing it one level below the least serious type of misdemeanor. The legislation applies to all wireless phones, mobile computers and other devices that can be used for texting, instant messaging, emailing or online browsing. The law supersedes local ordinances restricting text messaging by drivers.

Legislators Passed over Bill with Greater Penalties

The Legislature also considered a bill this session that would have  banned talking on a hand-held cell phone in addition to texting while driving.

Penalties in that bill for violating the talking-and-texting ban would have been $75, and one violation point would have been added to a driver’s record for the infraction, which would have had the potential to increase car insurance rates for those drivers.

Lawmakers ultimately passed up that bill for the texting-only ban.

Texting While Driving Remains an Issue across the Country

According to the governor’s office, distracted driving—which can include texting or talking on a cell phone, applying makeup or engaging in other unsafe behaviors in the driver’s seat—played a role in nearly 14,000 vehicle crashes statewide in 2010. Almost 1,100 of those accidents involved a hand-held cell phone, officials said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says nearly 5,500 people were killed and another nearly 450,000 injured nationwide in 2009 as a result of distracted driving. Eighteen percent of those crashes involved the use of a cell phone, according to NHTSA.

Teenage motorists have shown a greater propensity than other motorists to text while driving and engage in other forms of distracted driving, which increases safety risks for that age group and makes it hard for many families to find cheap insurance for young drivers.

But not all safety experts agree that state bans on driver use of mobile devices are making roadways safer.

A 2010 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) found no reduction in crashes after states enacted texting bans for motorists. In fact, research showed an increase in the frequency of certain types of insurance claims filed in three of the four states studied. Those claims were filed under the collision portion of policies, which pays for damage to a policyholder’s vehicle resulting from an accident.

HLDI officials have said that anti-texting laws could actually make roads less safe because, while many drivers will not stop texting behind the wheel, they may hold their mobile devices lower in order to avoid detection, causing them to look away from the road for longer periods.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

No comments yet.

Comment on this article