Stand on any street corner for 10 or 20 minutes and see how many drivers you spot texting on a cellphone.
It's not so unusual anymore to see drivers texting away, even as they are steering their 2-ton steel vehicle at 70-plus miles per hour down the highway.
There is a law against distracted driving, texting being one of the biggest distractions, but it is difficult to enforce.
The reason, according to Mahoning Township Police Chief Sean McGinley and some other area police chiefs, is the law is full of loopholes.
Statewide, the number of distracted driving citations increased by 118 percent, from 2,195 in 2014 to 4,793 in 2018, but the number of citations dipped 5 percent from 2017’s 5,054 to the 4,793 last year, according to figures from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
Several area chiefs told us their departments have issued few, if any, citations for the violation.
“While the law prohibits certain specified actions, it allows other very common actions, such as making phone calls or operating the device as a GPS,” Mahoning Township Police Chief Sean McGinley commented. “The clumsily worded law even provides people a defense if the device is ‘physically integrated into the vehicle.’ So, this particular loophole gives drivers who connect their phone to the vehicle via a USB or other tethered charging cable carte blanche to drive while texting, email, etc.
“Despite seeing dozens of drivers per day holding and manipulating their cellular devices, police simply aren’t able to legally stop that person because the requisite threshold to initiate a traffic stop is not met.”
That could change under a proposed change to the law that would not only prohibit texting while driving, but forbid use of a wireless device, such as a phone call, that requires use of the driver’s hands. Under the proposed change, drivers under 18 years of age would not be able to use any interactive wireless communications device, including one with a hands-free accessory.
The new law would increase the fine for violations from the current $50 to $200.
Commercial motor vehicle drivers cannot text or even use a handheld mobile device, under a 2014 state law. The fine for those violations is $100.
Texting includes sending, reading or writing a text-based message, according to the law.
Under the current law, police cannot confiscate the driver’s phone, unless they suspect texting led to a serious crash. In such cases, the penalties are increased, under a law that took effect early in 2017. Violators face prison time if they caused a crash that seriously injured or killed someone and texting was a factor.
McGinley hopes the proposed changes under House Bill 37 would strengthen the current law.
We do, too.
Emergency responders know just how much human tragedy can occur when a driver takes his or her eyes off of the road for even just a few seconds. The result is injury, death. Friends and family members lost forever.
No text is worth that.
Given that even with the current law, drivers still text, they need a bit more convincing.