HARRISBURG -- After state Sen. Robert Tomlinson called the practice of sending or reading text messages while driving "absolutely deadly," Gov. Tom Corbett today signed a bill outlawing the practice.
"I wish I could say that with a stroke of a pen we'll be able to make driving safer, but it's not that simple," Mr. Corbett said. "We have all heard stories about someone hurt or killed when texting while driving," including a 17-year-old girl in Butler County who died hours after the bill received approval by the state Senate.
He said he hopes the new law -- which takes effect in March -- will stop drivers from texting. It is a primary offense that carries a $50 fine.
Mr. Tomlinson, R-Bucks, has tried for several years to make the practice of texting while driving a "primary offense," meaning police can stop and ticket a driver for doing so. Some opponents, fearing "nanny government," wanted to make it a secondary offense, such as failure to wear a seat belt, meaning a person would have to be stopped for some other offense, such as speeding, before being charged with texting while driving.
More than 30 other states now ban texting while driving.
State police Col. George Bivens said his officers will be able to handle the additional task for looking for texting drivers.
Mr. Corbett admitted there are many practices that constitute distracted driving, such as eating, drinking or changing radio channels while driving, but he said texting was the most dangerous. Some people try to steer with their knees while using their fingers to text, he said.
Mr. Tomlinson said the Legislature next year may discuss whether to prohibit drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones, which nine other states already have done. AAA and AT&T applauded the new law. Ted Leonard, state AAA director, said "Education is impotant on this," meaning drivers need to be reminded not to text. AT&T President J. Michael Schweder said, "We remind all Pennsylvanians that no text message is worth putting lives at risk."
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