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Texting while driving bill takes effect

By Anthony Meier
On March 14, 2012

  • Pennsylvania’s ban on texting while driving went into effect March 8. The “Anti-Texting Law” still allows for motorists to text at stop lights and to speak on cell phones while driving. Jenna O'Brien / Photo Editor

Pennsylvania's "Anti-Texting Law," went into effect March 8, making texting while driving officially illegal across the state.

State Bill 314, proposed by state Senator Robert Tomlinson (R-Northampton), prohibits the use of an "interactive wireless communication device," to "send, read or write a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion."

Text-based communication is defined by the bill as "a text message, instant message, electronic mail or other written communication composed or received on an interactive wireless communications device."

The law does not mention any bans on using phones for non-text-based communication purposes or texting while waiting at a red light or stop sign. It also does not prohibit the use of talking on a cell phone while driving.

According to Robin Mungo, state trooper and Public Information officer, any offender will have to pay a $50 fine which would total to "about $135 to $136, when you tack on the fees," she said. The penalty does not include points being taken off a driver's license.

She also added that officers are not permitted to seize a driver's phone upon being pulled over for suspicion of texting while driving without a proper search warrant.

Mungo believes the benefits of the anti-texting law are undeniable.

"Anytime we can reduce the number of distractions we have in a vehicle, then it will hopefully reduce the number of crashes we respond to or we have across our highways," Mungo said.

In 2010, there were about 14,000 crashes in Pennsylvania involving distracted drivers, with 68 people dying in those crashes, according to a March 7 Pennsylvania Department of Transportation press release.

Keith Alexander, a Duquesne public relations and advertising major, said he is "on board" with the legislation, but thinks police will have a tough time proving a driver is texting while driving.

"It's definitely going to be difficult if they can't prove [a driver was texting]," Alexander said. "But if they find a way to start stopping people from texting, I definitely think the law will find a way to be effective."

Gabriella Romeo, a political science and communications major, agreed.

"It would probably difficult to prove," Romeo said. "People could hit the GPS on their phone and just say 'I was typing in an address.'"

Mungo said she is not as concerned about proving whether or not a driver is texting when she pulls someone over. She said the signs could be obvious for both officers and citizens to identify a distracted driver.

"You, as a non-police officer, you can kind of judge when someone is distracted ... that a person must be on their cell phone by the way they are driving," Mungo said. "For us [officers], it is no different except we have the experience of being in our car all the time. Our job is to observe ... we are not just looking for someone that is using a cell phone."

Mungo said factors like a driver who is weaving or unable to keep his or her vehicle within a given a lane, would give officers probable cause to pull the vehicle over.

Both Romeo and Alexander admitted that they have texted while driving, but have tried to avoid it.

"I don't usually do it, but when I do I'm usually at a red light or stop sign...or when I really need to get my answer to someone," Romeo said. "If you really need to make a phone call or send a text message, you can always pull over and then get back on the road."

Alexander said one of the main reasons he stopped texting while driving was when he got a new cell phone.

"I used [to text]. It was easier with a keyboard ... I was able to do it without looking at the screen," Alexander said. "But with the iPhone, you have to stare and watch the screen, and now I don't do it anymore."

Mungo said she knows the legislation doesn't encompass all distractions on the road for drivers, but thinks the law is a good start for putting more responsibility on drivers and catching people who refuse to stop the distraction of texting while driving.

"Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the driver," Mungo said. "We are going to have people who are going to flat out say, 'No, I'm going to continue to text and drive,' and those are the people we are going to want to stop."

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