It was sad irony that on the day the Pennsylvania Senate approved a law banning texting and driving, a 17-year-old girl in western Pennsylvania died in a car accident while engaged in this activity.

According to news reports, the girl was texting and crashed her car into a tree.

All that needs to occur for texting and driving to become a taboo combination is for Gov. Tom Corbett to sign it into law. This should happen very soon. The bill takes effect 120 days after the governor signs the legislation.

The law states no driver may operate a vehicle on a Pennsylvania road while using a wireless device to send, read, or write a text while the vehicle is in motion.

The only problem with the bill is that the punishment is too lenient.

Texting and driving carries only a $50 fine. Police are not allowed to seize the texting device.

This creates two problems.

The fine is so low it won't discourage all texting drivers. Also, the law should have created points for the offense. Texting and driving is as dangerous as speeding.

Because the police aren't allowed to confiscate the texting device from the driver, not even from habitual offenders, it means that it will be harder for police to prove when challenged in court.

The original version of the bill would have also banned talking on cell phones, but the House of Representatives took out this provision. Hopefully, they'll give another look and restore it.

The bill makes texting and driving a primary offense, meaning police can pull motorists over strictly for this practice.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2008 that driver distraction was the cause of 16 percent of all fatal crashes – 5,800 people killed – and 21 percent of crashes resulting in an injury – 515,000 people wounded.

This isn't to be interpreted to mean that texting was responsible for all these deaths and injuries. Few can argue that texting is a major driving distraction.

According to the American Automobile Association, nearly 50 percent of teens admit to texting while driving. Distracted driving endangers life and property.

Lawmakers have made seat belts mandatory. Air bags are required in all new cars. Other safety features are mandated on new cars, all at buyer expense, to save lives.

Saving lives by prohibiting texting is a safety feature with no price tag attached. The same is true if lawmakers would show courage and ban talking on cell phones while driving.

It's going to be interesting to see how many convictions occur when motorists who are arrested for texting and driving challenge the police. The law is welcome. It's just not strong enough and the fines are too weak.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com