No more texting while driving in Pennsylvania?

Indeed. Under a new law that takes effect Thursday, drivers will risk fines if they send text messages from behind the wheel.

No reading or sending of e-mails and no Web surfing either.

But drivers will still be permitted to talk on their handheld phones, which police say will make enforcement tougher.

"The Pennsylvania State Police anticipate the law will educate law-abiding citizens on the dangers of texting and driving and will hopefully create voluntary compliance by the majority of motorists," said Maria Finn, a State Police spokeswoman.

The state law, signed by Gov. Corbett in December after years of debate, also supersedes existing local ordinances, such as those in Philadelphia and two other Pennsylvania cities, which prohibit the use of any handheld device behind the wheel.

New Jersey is one of nine states that ban the use of all handheld devices while driving.

The Pennsylvania law makes texting a primary offense, which means that police may pull over a driver for texting alone.

But law enforcement officials say it will be tricky for officers to determine who is texting and who is dialing a phone number or looking for something they dropped.

"Troopers will attempt to use observations of the driver while the vehicle is in motion to determine if traffic stops are warranted in any particular situation," Finn said. "For instance, if a motorist continues to manipulate the device over an extended distance with no apparent voice communication."

Officers may not seize cellphones from drivers.

Those who are caught will be fined $50 but will not receive points against their license.

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood says he is pleased about the texting law, though he hasn't had the chance to read it or brief his officers yet.

"The world of technology has made our roadways and our sidewalks unsafe," said Chitwood, recalling the death several years ago of a young woman pedestrian in Upper Darby, who was hit by a driver high on marijuana and texting.

At least one driver was found to be distracted in 15 percent to 30 percent of motor-vehicle accidents nationwide, and texting increases the risk of accidents, according to a 2011 study by the Governors Highway Safety Association.

But the same study found that texting bans were not effective at stopping the hazardous habit.

Still, law enforcement officials and lawmakers hope the ban will reduce handheld usage by making people aware of the dangers.

"The road should always be your only focus," said State Rep. Michelle Brownlee (D., Phila.). "No text or e-mail is worth risking a fatal accident."

Pennsylvania's New Texting Law

Prohibits as a primary offense any driver from using an Interactive Wireless Communication Device (IWCD) to send, read, or write a text-based communication while his or her vehicle is in motion.

Defines an IWCD as a wireless phone, personal digital assistant, smartphone, portable or mobile computer, or similar device that can be used for texting,

instant messaging, e-mailing, or browsing the Internet.

Defines a text-based communication as a text message, instant message, e-mail, or other written communication.

Institutes a $50 fine for convictions.

Makes clear that this law supersedes and preempts any local ordinances restricting the use of interactive wireless devices.



Contact Amy Worden

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