The Pennsylvania General Assembly has just passed a bill that will make text messaging while driving a primary offense throughout the state. A representative for Governor Corbett has confirmed that the Governor has already agreed to sign the bill. The law should go into effect in about four months, according to a NewsWorks article.
Though violators of the law will only face a relatively paltry $50 fine (compared to moving violations that are much more expensive), critics have raised issues with how the law will actually be enforced.
This brings me to my own major critique. Though text messaging while driving is clearly a dangerous practice that needs to be addressed, how are we to prove that drivers are, indeed, texting?
What if I’m just choosing a song on my iPod? What if I’m using my phone to make a (legal) call? What if I’m simply checking the time or my email? What if I’m using it for navigation? Will I be able to contest the ticket, not to mention any other charges that I could receive after being pulled over, if I’m using my phone for something besides sending a text?
Bedford County Republican John Eichelberger, an opponent of the bill, was quoted in the same NewsWorks article, stating, “So if I’m holding my BlackBerry and the officer sees me and stops me and I simply say, I was making a telephone call or checking my voicemail or using it for navigational purposes. How’s he supposed to know what I was doing?” Exactly.
There’s no real way to tell, especially from a moving vehicle, that a driver is text messaging, rather than performing any one of the other 3,000 tasks mobile phones allow for these days. We’ll just have to wait for the first person with enough money and time to challenge the violation to see if it will be curtailed or changed to permit general (and lawful) cell phone use.