The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 19, 2012

An enforcement nightmare

Texting-while-driving law challenges police officers

The Tribune-Democrat

— When a newsroom staffer sees a headline on a newspaper story or a magazine article stating the very obvious, he or she often blurts out, “There’s a no-kidding headline,” or something to that effect.

An example is a story on a study involving men and women with a headline that reads, “Study: Men and women different.” 

You get the idea.

“No kidding” was similar to what we said when we saw on an informative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story the headline: “Text-ing while driving ban hard to enforce, Pa. police maintain.”

It wasn’t that our headline wasn’t accurate. It was. But police officers and citizens in general knew when the state’s texting-while-driving law went into effect in March that it would be tough to enforce.

“We’re still seeing the same distracted drivers out there that are texting,” North Huntingdon police Chief Andrew Lisiecki told the Tribune-Review writer.

“All the driver has to say is, ‘I was punching in a phone number.’ It’s tough to enforce.”

The article said citations issued statewide stood at 901, an average of about 112 a month, according to records from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and the Philadelphia Police Department, which compiles its own statistics.

It further stated that district judges reported they, too, often dismiss the cases for lack of evidence.

Here are some additional important facts garnered from the Tribune-Review article:

* About 3,000 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

* About 82 percent of adults own a cellphone, and 27 percent have said they used theirs to send or read a text message while driving. That compares to about 26 percent of teens who admitted to texting while driving, according to the Pew Research Center.

* Those drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than a non-distracted driver, according to the NHTSA.

If caught texting, a motorist faces a smallish $50 fine. The arrest carries no points against their driving record.

Obviously, the simple answer is too ban all usage of handheld cellphones. When or if that will happen is anyone’s guess. 

Meanwhile, here are some things that could help:

* An ever-vigilant public willing to report violators’ license-plate numbers or even to confront those drivers who text.

* PennDOT highway signage, public-service announcements and ads and bumper stickers alerting motorists about the law prohibiting texting and letting them know that the majority of us want it to stop.

We hope it doesn’t take more injuries and deaths for everyone to realize just how serious this issue is and how stupid it is to take chances while behind the wheel of an automobile.

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