Not many years ago, officials wouldn't have thought of it being a problem.

Imagine, motorists driving 65 mph while typing messages to friends or business acquaintances, and in turn receiving messages. Unheard of.

But it's really become a problem, one that escalates every day, thanks to moden technology.

Drivers today are not only conversing on cell phones, they are taking their hands off the wheel to send text messages.

Nothing is more distriacting. Nothing is more dangerous.

Few things make us feel more uncomfortable or vulnerable than to be driving down the highway and someone passes us on the left, and that motorist is texting while trying to maintain control of a 3,000 pound vehicle.

There are many who believe the practice is as dangerous, or more dangerous, than drunk driving.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Thursday launched a statewide safety-awareness campaign aimed at reducing the incidents of texting-related crashes on the state's toll highways. Officials unveiled new "quit-texting" signs that are now being put up at toll plazas, rest stops and on roadside message boards across the Turnpike system.

"Today, we're celebrating our 70th birthday by declaring America's First Super Highway the 'Text-Free Turnpike,'" said Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier. "We're sending a strong message to travelers: Quit texting on the Turnpike, and keep your thumbs on the wheel."

Statistics show that, in 2009, more than 120 Pennsylvania Turnpike accidents were attributed to driver distraction. In the first half of this year, 93 distracted-driving accidents have already occurred on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Pennsylvania State Police Troop T, the unit in charge of Turnpike patrols, is joining the Turnpike in encouraging texting-free driving. State troopers have seen first hand how cell-phone usage while driving - and particularly texting - can lead to tragic consequences that could be prevented if drivers put down their phones.

In addition, the Turnpike Commission recently approved a new policy forbidding employees to text or e-mail while driving on official business - whether in a commission-owned vehicle or a private vehicle.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are presently considering several bills on the use of handheld devices while driving. To date, texting bans have been enacted in 32 states, including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. Bans on all handheld devices have been enacted in eight states, including Delaware, New Jersey and New York.

We applaud the Turnpike Commission for enacting their crusade to warn drivers about the dangers of texting. But only when Pennsylvania enacts a law forbidding the practice with heavy penalties, will our roads be made safer.

Bob Urban

rurban@tnonline.com