Pennsylvania’s anti-texting law is a joke. A bad one.
By itself, without a complimentary ban on other uses of hand-held phones by drivers, it’s all but unenforceable. We have to think police officers are up to speed on the law’s limitations.
Who’s to say a driver stopped for suspected texting — nudge, wink — wasn’t just checking an incoming call, dialing up someone, looking at email, scrolling through social media?
Those activities, after all, are legal on Pennsylvania highways.
It’s time that they weren’t.
Texting and other phone use that take a driver’s eyes and attention off the road make up a significant part of distracted driving-related injuries and fatalities. It’s difficult to know exactly how much, but the toll attributed to distraction is troubling.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says distracted driving was a factor in 3,166 deaths in 2017. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control boils that down further: Each day nine people are killed in the U.S. and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.
The accounts of such tragedies are easier to dismiss when they’re part of a statistical column of numbers. When they happen in our backyard, the senselessness of this behavior is fully imaginable, the sacrifice real.
Last week a truck driver from California apparently missed the flashing warning signs of roadwork ahead, state police said, and plowed into stopped traffic on Interstate 78 in Berks County, killing a New Jersey couple on their way to Pittsburgh to get married. Police said the driver may have been distracted by a phone conversation. The driver’s sister called Berks County 911 to say she was talking with her brother on the phone when she heard a commotion and was disconnected.
Dylan Groff admitted in Northampton County Court that he was distracted on Sept. 22, 2017, when his car left the road on Route 248 in Palmer Township and killed 12-year-old Emma Raymondo, who was walking home from a store with her siblings. Police believe Groff was on his phone at the time of the crash and probably texting; prosecutors said they could not prove that in court. At his recent sentencing hearing, Groff said he was distracted but didn’t identify the source. He was sentenced to nine to 23 months in county prison.
Emma’s mother, Kayleen Raymondo, is actively campaigning for an expansion of Pennsylvania’s phone-use ban. Other states have taken this step, including New Jersey, realizing that a text-only ban is incomplete — and an invitation to to flout the law.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives recently passed a bill by state Rep. Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe-Pike, to outlaw all hand-held phone use by drivers. Hands-free calling with Bluetooth technology or a docking station would be permitted. Phone-based GPS systems could be used if they are attached to a surface. The fine for a conviction would be $200, a needed upgrade from $50 for texting under the current law. The Senate should keep the teeth in this proposal and send it to Gov. Tom Wolf.
Saving lives and avoiding preventable accidents requires a commitment by drivers to minimize all distractions, not just phone use. But tapping and talking on a phone while driving — along with texting, under the cover of a weak law — are biggies. This type of mindlessness is killing innocent people, some of whom aren’t even on the road.
— Easton Express Times