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The Dangers of Texting While Driving

How much trouble can someone get into with a smartphone? Plenty, it turns out. Distracted driving has become a catchword for all those things drivers do when they stop paying attention, or pay only minimal attention to the road. Distracted driving includes texting, making cell phone calls, answering calls, and talking on a cell phone.

Pennsylvania’s state law making texting while driving illegal has been in effect for over a year, but statistics still show drivers commonly being cited for that unlawful and dangerous activity. 40 states now ban texting while driving.

How bad can it be?

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute published the results of several comprehensive studies on the use of cell phones and distracted driving after following drivers for over 6 million miles of roadway. Text messaging on a cell phone presented the highest risk of all cell phone related tasks, followed by dialing a phone number, talking on the cellphone and merely listening to a call while driving. Text messaging made the risk of crash or near-crash incident 23.2 times as high as non-distracted driving. One researcher explained that drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds when texting, which doesn’t sound like much — but 4.6 seconds at 55 mph is equivalent to driving the length of a football field without looking.

The National Safety Council’s 2011 report famously attributed at least 23% of all motor vehicle accidents annually — or 1.3 million accidents — to drivers either texting or using their cell phones while driving.

What’s the law in Pennsylvania about texting while driving?

The Pennsylvania statute prohibits employing an Interactive Wireless Communication Device (IWCD) to write, send or even read a text-based message. The statute defines an IWCD as:

  • A smart phone or wireless phone
  • A portable computer
  • A personal digital assistant (PDA)
  • Any similar device people use for texting, instant messaging, emailing or browsing the Internet

Notice that Pennsylvania law speaks in terms of texting activities and not talking on a cell phone. It appears that this new state law may override local city ordinances that prohibit hand-held cell phone calling while driving. However, local authorities are still trying to sponsor various bills to grant them statutory “autonomy” or other mechanisms so they can continue to ban cell phone use while driving in their cities.

Check with an attorney to find out the latest status of local cell phone bans before assuming anything, since this is an on-going controversy.  The obvious penalty for texting while driving is a fine, but the hidden costs of increased insurance premiums due to the moving violation can be steep. Keep in mind that this is a tough violation for the police to prove unless you confess, since the police cannot seize your device as evidence without a warrant.

If you have been charged with texting while driving and want to challenge the stop and the ticket, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Reading to discuss defenses and strategies.

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