New texting and driving law brings a $50 fine

Tom Sofield, Centurion Staff

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Horsham police Lt. John Clark sits in his unmarked Crown Victoria police vehicle just off the road – watching for drivers who have their eyes off the road and peeled to the screens of their mobile device. Starting in early March, police officers like Clark across Pennsylvania have been enforcing a new law prohibiting text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle.
The new law makes text-based communications while driving a primary offense – meaning police can stop and ticket a motorist if a violation of the law is observed – carrying a $50 fine.
Clark said before the law was enacted he had stopped several drivers for swerving all over the road while looking at cell phones and GPS devices. Those drivers were ticketed for distracted driving, but the new law makes it so police can stop anyone drive while using a text-based device.
“This law is one of those things that can prevent a tragedy,” Clark said recently. Clark added he thinks the law is necessary.
The veteran Horsham officer said text-based communication while driving is widespread and has lead to dozens accidents in Horsham and around the state over the past several years.
The problem is so serious that a study conducted by the University of North Texas Health Science Center found as many as 16,000 people were killed on highways nationwide between 2001 and 2007 due to accidents determined to be caused by texting or talking and driving.
In 2010 in Pennsylvania, nearly 14,000 wrecks involving distracted drivers were reported, with nearly 70 of the crashes resulting in deaths, according to PennDOT data.
Also, in recent years, the number of pedestrians struck by vehicles state – usually attributed to distracted drivers –  across the has increased, Upper Moreland police Chief Thomas Nestel said.
While pedestrian verse vehicle accidents only account for less than 4% of traffic incidents, on average, they make up nearly 11 percent of deaths related to car accidents, according to data provided by PennDOT.
“Your most important job when behind the wheel is to focus only on driving. Most people would never close their eyes for five seconds while driving, but that’s how long you take your eyes of the road, or even longer, every time you send or read a text message,” PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch said in a recent statement.
Local law enforcement officers will be enforcing the law “proactively,” but police officer’s would have the discretion to decide whether a person should receive a ticket or a warning, Clark and several other chiefs said.
Bryan Munshaw, 21, Bucks student, said the new law has deterred him from texting while driving.
Almost all the students we spoke with agreed with Munshaw.
“I never do it anymore,” said Paige Cooper, 19, education major of Upper Southampton. She added the new law was her main deterrent.
The new law, according to PennDOT, 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 preempts any local ordinances restricting the use of interactive wireless devices by drivers.
Clark said he hopes the law and enforcement by police will “encourage people not to drive distracted.”

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