PA’s New Texting Ban Shows Weakness

By Kate Space
SC Staff Writer

In a day and age inhabited by people that are literally obsessed with technology (some people would rather text than have an actual face-to-face conversation with someone), it is no surprise that lawmakers have stepped in to regulate when and where people are permitted to use their cellphones. While it is easy to criticize the apparent lack of live communication that occurs between tech-savvy users, it is also safe to say that most of us are guilty of sneaking a text during class or while at work, distracting us from boring lectures and dull work meetings. But what about sneaking a text while driving? A quick “on my way” to a friend seems innocent enough, right?

Wrong. Pennsylvania has recently joined the other 36 states that ban drivers from using a handheld cellular device to text, tweet, Facebook, IM, or chat, allowing police officers to stop vehicles and issue a citation of $50 to offenders. Why has Pennsylvania adopted this new outlook on texting and driving? The numbers are staggering—the amount of accidents and lives lost due to cellphone related crashes continues to grow. In 2010, Pennsylvania had almost 14,000 crashes in which distracted driving played a major role. This new law lets Pennsylvanians know that our lawmakers are cracking down on distracted driving and also presents an opportunity for drivers to educate themselves on the dangers of texting and driving, overall benefitting our residents and improving safety on the roads.

Many critics argue that drivers often fix their makeup, eat, adjust their GPS, and play with the radio while operating a vehicle—are cellphones really all that much more distracting than other things? The short answer is yes; not only does texting require a driver to take one or both hands off the steering wheel, it also requires them to take their eyes off of the road long enough to read a text and then respond to it. While it would be beneficial to ban all distracting behavior of drivers, the idea is unrealistic. Texting, however, seems to be much more prevalent in recent years and appears to be easier to monitor and control.

There is, however, another weakness to the new law in Pennsylvania. Texting is undoubtedly a hazard to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians, but why have lawmakers decided to place a ban on texting, and not cellphone use altogether? Many states, such as New York and New Jersey, do not permit drivers to engage in handheld cellphone use of any kind, including texts, calls, or internet usage. The separation of texting and calling is puzzling, as the law seems to be a step backwards for areas that upheld a ‘no cellphone’ law prior to the current ban on texting. Philadelphia, for example, enforced a law similar to that of New York and New Jersey, which forbid drivers from using their cellphones at all unless it was connected to a Bluetooth or other hands-free device. The current texting ban now allows drivers to dial numbers and chat away on their phones, which can be just as distracting. A change to the law that includes the addition of placing calls while driving should be expected for the future—it’s only a matter of time before authorities realize that cellphones are downright distracting to drivers, no matter how they are being used.