Pennsylvania’s Driving While Texting Law Takes Effect Today

Filed under: Criminal Law, DUI, News Tags: by Steven F. Fairlie @ March 8, 2012

Remember that Pennsylvania has a statewide prohibition against texting while driving that takes effect today. The ban prohibits sending, reading, or writing text-based communications from smartphones and other devices while driving. It does not apply to making telephone calls from a handheld cellphone, which will make enforcement difficult. To make a valid stop, a Pennsylvania officer will have to see the person manipulating the phone without ever raising it to talk and be able to articulate a reasonable belief that the person was doing something prohibited as opposed to entering a phone number and making a call.  I had heard officers say that they will know the person is not making a call if the phone is not raised to the ear, but I am not sure that is fair given the prevalence of bluetooth devices in Pennsylvania these days.

It is important to note that the ban does not extend to GPS devices or systems integrated into the vehicle, that the police can’t seize the phone, that there is a $50 fine per violation but no points, and that this is a primary offense which can constitute the sole basis for a police officer making a car stop.

I have yet to see anything defining “operation” of a vehicle.  Pennsylvania Courts have repeatedly held that a person can be operating a vehicle while it is stopped, idling, and sometimes even while turned off and parked in the DUI context.  It is hard to believe that they will penalize texting while parked, since no harm would be likely to result from that, but the law does not make that clear.

It is helpful to read the actual text of the law which appears below.

75 Pa.C.S.A. 3316
(a) Prohibition.–No driver shall operate a motor vehicle on a highway or trafficway in this Commonwealth while using an interactive wireless communications device to send, read or write a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion. A person does not send, read or write a text-based communication when the person reads, selects or enters a telephone number or name in an interactive wireless communications device for the purpose of activating or deactivating a voice communication or a telephone call.
(b) (Reserved).
(c) Seizure.–The provisions of this section shall not be construed as authorizing the seizure or forfeiture of an interactive wireless communications device, unless otherwise provided by law.
(d) Penalty.–A person who violates subsection (a) commits a summary offense and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of $50.
(e) Preemption of local ordinances.–In accordance with section 6101 (relating to applicability and uniformity of title), this section supersedes and preempts all ordinances of any municipality with regard to the use of an interactive wireless communications device by the driver of a motor vehicle.
(f) Definition.–As used in this section, the term “text-based communication” means a text message, instant message, electronic mail or other written communication composed or received on an interactive wireless communications device.What is an Interactive Communication Device?
“Interactive wireless communications device.” is a wireless telephone, personal digital assistant, smart phone, portable or mobile computer or similar device which can be used for voice communication, texting, e-mailing, browsing the Internet or instant messaging. The term does not include any of the following:
(1) a device being used exclusively as a global positioning or navigation system;
(2) a system or device that is physically or electronically integrated into the vehicle; or
(3) a communications device that is affixed to a mass transit vehicle, bus or school bus.

Contact a lawyer at Fairlie & Lippy if you have been charged with a traffic offense.

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