The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 28, 2013

‘Why not decide to be safe?’

Risks of texting while driving not worth consequences

The Tribune-Democrat

— A 2012 highway crash claiming the lives of a Conemaugh Township, Cambria County, man and his granddaughter has become even more tragic a year later with the arrest this week of a 19-year-old motorist.

At the crux of this sad event is a police probe into texting while driving, something that became illegal in Pennsylvania on March 8.

Austin Molinich of Nanty Glo, one of the drivers and the only survivor of the Frankstown Road two-truck smashup, has turned himself in to Richland Township police. He faces eight counts, including homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, texting while driv-ing and driving under the influence.

The defendant’s cellphone log, police said, showed that just two minutes after he received a text message, he made a call to 911 to report the accident.

His blood-alcohol level was reported at 0.02 percent, far below the .08 percent rate for legal intoxication. He was charged with a DUI because of his status as a minor.

Killed in the accident were Donald Evans Sr., 71, and his granddaughter, 19-year-old Cassandra Singer of Northumberland County.

It will now be up to the courts to determine whether young Molinich was, in fact, texting when his truck crossed the center line and crashed head-on into the Evans’ vehicle.

We long had editorialized in support of a texting-while-driving law, and we still strongly believe it should also be illegal to talk on a handheld cellphone while driving.

It’s just common sense.

“Your most important job when behind the wheel is to focus only on driving. Most people would never close their eyes for five seconds while driving, but that’s how long you take your eyes off the road, or even longer, every time you send or read a text message,”

PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch says in a message posted on the Pennsylvania State Police website.

“It’s not just your own life you’re risking; it’s the lives and safety of every motorist around you.”

How true.

Obviously, police officers are enforcing the new texting law. State troopers have issued 352 citations statewide, according to information provided this week by its Harrisburg public information officer.

Pam Kane, PennDOT District 9 spokeswoman, provided the following 2008-2012 data for Cambria County as related to distracted driving (which involves more than cellphones; for example, it also involves actions such as eating, tuning a radio, smoking, and fixing hair and makeup while driving):

* Of 688 distracted-driving crashes in that five-year period, two resulted in fatalities.

* Sixty-two drivers were reported to have been using cellphones at the time.

* Seventeen involved 16-year-old drivers and 43, 17-year-old-drivers.

* Fifty-one involved drivers between the ages of 65 and 74 and 48 involved drivers over the age of 75.

* The remainder (529) of the crashes involved drivers between the ages of 18 and 63.

“Many people think that distracted driving is a young person’s issue,” Kane noted. “Although with the onset of cellphones, there are more young people falling into that type of behavior, distraction as a whole (no matter what is causing you to take your hands off the wheel and your eyes off the road) is dangerous – no matter what your age.

“It ultimately comes down to healthy decisions. We must decide to drink and drive, we decide not to wear a seat belt and we decide to pick up the phone and text while driving. So while we’re making decisions, why not decide to be safe?”

We agree with Kane.

As the state police website states: “The statistics on the risks of texting and driving are clear. Those who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in some type of safety-critical event as compared to those

drivers who don’t text while driving, according to a study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.”

Our readers will be watching intently as the case involving young Austin Molinich unfolds. We hope they also will be thinking about their driving habits and about the consequences for all motorists when some people decide to text while driving.

It’s the law

Pennsylvania’s texting-while-driving law specifically does the following:

* Makes it a primary offense to use an Interactive Wireless Communication Device to send, read or write a text-based message.

* Defines an IWCD as a wireless phone, personal digital assistant, smartphone, portable or mobile computer or similar devices that can be used for texting, instant messaging, emailing or browsing the Internet.

* Defines a text-based message as a text message, instant message, email or other written communication composed or received on an IWCD.

* Institutes a $50 fine for convictions.

* Makes clear that this law supersedes and pre-empts any local ordinances restricting the use of interactive wireless devices by drivers.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.