Enforcement of Texting Law Is Inconsistent in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvanians have a puzzle on their hands. Namely, why are people who text and drive in Schuylkill County about three times less likely to be charged by police than those who do the same thing in Snyder County? After all Schuylkill County has around 142,000 residents; by comparison, Snyder County has roughly 40,000, according to 2017 U.S. Census reports.
These facts and others were recently explored by PA-based news station WNEP-16 in an effort to illustrate the wide variations of state law enforcement related to texting while driving. Essentially, the reporters discovered discrepancies from county to county. In other words, someone who texts behind the wheel in the Commonwealth may get away with this crime in some areas because it doesn’t appear to always be a priority.
It’s an uncomfortable realization, especially for the millions upon millions of people who drive on PA’s highways, streets, turnpikes, and avenues every year. Per numbers curated by DMV.org, 26 percent of the car accidents reported just four years ago were related to some kind of cell phone distraction. If officials aren’t consistently charging drivers who clearly violate laws related to cell phone use, everyone is at risk. Plus, young drivers won’t learn proper safety techniques; in fact, a full 42 percent of them self-reported texting while behind the wheel as of 2015, showing they’re already developing poor habits.
Cracking down on texting starts by knowing the law
To be sure, most Pennsylvanians innately realize that texting while operating a motor vehicle is clearly a poor idea. Yet some still don’t realize it’s a violation, which it most certainly is. PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles, notes that it’s a primary offense to operate any Primary Wireless Communication Device (e.g., smart phones, old-style flip phones, tablets) while in control of a moving vehicle. (This includes at stop signs, even though the vehicle is not technically in motion.)
Those caught texting while driving can expect to pay a fine of $50, as well as any fees or court costs associated with their violation. Of course, if they are found at fault for an accident linked to distracted driving, they may well incur other costs, especially if they injure someone else or cause property damage or the accident results in a fatality.
Unlike other states, PA doesn’t add driver’s license points for texting while behind the wheel, which is something many people want to see. As the WNEP-16 article mentioned above suggests, advocates for stricter laws and better enforcement feel that the possibility of points–not to mention the certainty of increased car insurance payments related to having points on a license–could stem rampant cell phone texting abuse.
Where should we start if we want to curb this problem? Initially, two actions need to take place across Pennsylvania. First, law enforcement needs to take a harsher stand on texting and driving in counties where officials may have a reputation for looking the other way or not focusing on the issue. This will help streamline the process of catching and punishing those who violate the law.
Secondly, drivers must own up to their responsibility to make road travel safer. No one needs to answer or initiate a text while driving. If an emergency arises that necessitates phone use, drivers should move to a safe place off the road or pull into a restaurant, retail store, rest stop, or other convenient stopping place.
This type of two-pronged attack against the dangers of texting while driving will not only help people get where they need to go, but it will teach new drivers the right way to be responsible while on the road. And any bit of early intervention can only save lives, heartache, pain, and other damage in the long run.
Been hurt in a car accident where an at-fault driver was texting? Contact the Philadelphia lawyers at Wapner Newman to arrange a free initial consultation.