Pa. law banning texting while driving takes effect Thursday

March 05, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Beginning Thursday, motorists in Pennsylvania can be pulled over by police if they are spotted texting while driving.

The new law makes using a wireless device to send, read or write messages a primary offense. Violations carry a $50 fine.

“The biggest thing is drivers are distracted while they are driving and texting ... When you are distracted like that, it’s like you are impaired,” Waynesboro Police Chief Mark King said.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the state had nearly 14,000 crashes in 2010 in which distracted driving was cited as playing a role. Sixty-eight people died in those crashes.

“Our troopers will attempt to use observations of the driver while the vehicle is in motion to determine if traffic stops are warranted. An example might be the motorist continues to manipulate the device over an extended distance with no apparent voice communication,” Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said in a news release.

“All ages need to be aware of this,” King said. “I think it’s no longer a problem of our youth.”

Gregory Chandler teaches driver’s safety to Waynesboro Area Senior High School students. During their unit on distracted driving, he has students text while he flashes them signals from the back of the classroom to demonstrate how much they miss.

“The more distractions there are, the more risk there is when you are driving. ... We’ve done some stuff like that (class) to make them aware, but the bottom line is we’ve addicted this generation to cellphones,” Chandler said.

King mentioned the Jan. 12 death of Utah State University teenager Taylor Sauer, who was messaging a friend about football when she wrote, according to media reports, “I can’t discuss this now. Driving and facebooking is not safe! Haha.” Moments later, her vehicle slammed into a tanker truck.

“It happens faster than what you think,” King said.

Sauer’s parents are lobbying their home state of Idaho to enact a texting ban.

Pennsylvania native Jacy Good took her distracted driving message nationwide, appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2010. Good’s parents died in a Berks County, Pa., crash after her Muhlenberg College graduation ceremony in May 2008.

Good told Oprah a young man who was talking on his cellphone ran a red light, causing a three-vehicle collision. Good learned to walk again and does not have use of her left arm.

“There’s just nothing that can possibly be that important that, everyone on the road around you, that you have to take their lives at risk,” she said on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Chandler questioned why people need to use their phones on typical 10- to 15-minute drives.

“Is it really necessary to talk from the time you leave the house until you reach your destination?” he asked. “There are so many electronics in the car today. Sometimes I think the multitasking has gotten out of hand.”

The new law specifically does the following:

  • Makes it a primary offense to use an Interactive Wireless Communication Device (IWCD) to send, read or write a text-based message.
  • Defines an IWCD as a wireless phone, personal digital assistant, smartphone, portable or mobile computer or similar devices that can be used for texting, instant messaging, emailing or browsing the Internet.
  • Defines a text-based message as a text message, instant message, email or other written communication composed or received on an IWCD.
  • Institutes a $50 fine for convictions.
  • Makes clear that this law supersedes and pre-empts any local ordinances restricting the use of interactive wireless devices by drivers.

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