First text to Allegheny County 911 may have been sent while driving

The first use of Allegheny County's new text-to-911 capabilities appears to have been by someone who was driving, a county spokeswoman said today.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald unveiled the new feature early Wednesday afternoon, letting county residents know that Verizon cell phone users could seek help in emergency situations via text.

Later that evening, Allegheny County's 911 center received its first emergency text message, county spokeswoman Amie Downs said. She did not have the exact language of the message, but she said it was someone reporting a possible drunken driver in the city of Pittsburgh.

The language of the message "seemed to indicate that they themselves were driving," she said.

Pennsylvania has banned texting while driving since 2012.

Ms. Downs could not rule out, however, that the person sent the message while the vehicle was stopped, or that it was not sent using a voice-to-text function.

Still, she said, the circumstance illustrates a point that Mr. Fitzgerald and others made at their announcement Wednesday: "The best way to communicate with 911 is by phone," Ms. Downs said.

The text-to-911 service is meant for people with hearing and speech impairments, or people who are in an emergency situation where it could be dangerous to speak aloud. Mr. Fitzgerald said Wednesday people sending text messages should provide their location, and avoid using texting slang or abbreviations.

In most cases, people should still contact 911 the old-fashioned way: dial and talk.

County dispatchers are able to respond via text to people who send in emergency text messages. Ms. Downs did not have information on what the county dispatch response had been to the inaugural text message.

For now, only Verizon users can text to 911, Ms. Downs said. All other users will get a bounce-back message saying the text did not go through. The county expects the other major carriers will make the service available to local residents in the near future.

READ MORE: Verizon customers can text 911 to Allegheny County to report emergencies

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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