The Cautionary Instruction: Is texting law having an impact in Pennsylvania?

Friday, 13 December 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Matt Mangino

20131213 drivetexting photocom165162816 150A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting while driving multiplies the chance of crashing by 23. Composing a typical text message is roughly akin to closing one's eyes for nearly five seconds, during which time a car going 55 mph covers more than the length of a football field.

Analysis from AAA shows that the Pittsburgh Metro area ranks second in the state of Pennsylvania for texting-while-driving citations.

According to the study, there were a total of 1,302 citations issued across Pennsylvania during the first full year of the law being in effect.

The study shows 111 of the citations were in Allegheny County and nearly 200 citations were issued in the seven counties surrounding the Pittsburgh area, including Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 41 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, novice drivers are banned from texting in 6 other states. Only three states, Arizona, South Carolina and Montana have no restrictions.

Many localities have enacted their own bans on cellphones or text messaging. In some but not all states, local jurisdictions need specific statutory authority to do so. In addition, most school bus drivers are banned from texting and using hand-held cellphones by state code, regulation or school district policy.

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee economics professor Scott Adams looked at what happens when states pass texting and driving laws.

It turns out, people stop texting and driving for a little while — and then they start doing it again pretty quickly.

"What we saw was that there was an initial decline in accidents once texting bans were passed. That was quite substantial," Adams told National Public Radio. "But after a few months, there was no effect."

Adams thinks it's partly because the consequences for getting caught are often pretty light. In some states, the police can't even pull you over unless you're doing something else wrong, like not using your turn signal.

The law signed in March 2012 by Gov. Tom Corbett made texting while driving a primary offense, meaning police didn't need another reason to pull someone over for texting. "I don't have any statistics, but I can tell you it seems to have made an impact, just from the feedback we get from students," Trooper Robin Mungo told the Post-Gazette.

The numbers seem to bear that out: Of the 113 texting citations that had been issued in Allegheny County as of March, 2013, only four were to drivers younger than 20.

(Image: Tomwang112/Getty Images)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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