Ban will take effect in March, police could use subpoena power against suspected violators
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
CAMP HILL — Gov. Tom Corbett signed a bill into law Wednesday to ban text messaging while driving in Pennsylvania, despite some concerns that the bill will be difficult to enforce.
Corbett said the bill, which makes texting while driving a primary offense, was intended to save lives. The law takes effect on March 9.
"There is no text message in the world that is worth the value of a human life," Corbett said. "The message is: drive now, text later."
Because texting while driving is a primary offense, a police officer can pull over drivers who are suspected of texting without having to first witness the driver commit another traffic offense.
Since the bill only outlaws texting while driving — not the use of cell phones in general — the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that local police have concerns about enforcing the new law. A driver, pulled over for allegedly texting, could argue he was searching his phone’s memory for a number to call or using the phone for other activities not banned by the law, according to reports.
Col. George Bivens, of the Pennsylvania State Police, said law enforcement agencies could obtain enough information from drivers and phone records to determine if texting citations were appropriate.
"Certainly the majority of citizens of the commonwealth want to comply with the law," Bivens said. "Once we stop a vehicle, we can certainly talk to the operator, to the passengers in the car and collect enough information to determine if it is appropriate to charge that individual."
Bivens said the police even could subpoena phone records to determine if a driver was illegally texting.
The Pennsylvania AAA Federation, which represents drivers, supported the bill. It passed with a large bi-partisan majority in both the state House and state Senate during the past month.
PA Independent: Texting While Driving Ban Passes House, Senate (11/1/11)
PA Independent: Despite Majority In Support, Texting Ban Fails In House This Week (10/28/11)