Finally, some common sense.

The Pennsylvania House this week passed legislation that would make it a primary offense punishable by a $50 fine, for motorists to use hand held mobile phones to place or receive calls or text message while driving.

It's a bill that's long overdue, and one that will be embraced by law enforcement officers once it clears the Senate and the Governor's desk, as is expected.

"We are all one text from eternity," said the bill's prime sponsor Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny.

And truer words have never been spoken.

Texting and cell phone use in vehicles has become of epidemic proportions in our society. Whether it's a teenager driving the family car, a trucker on a long-distance haul, the housewife talking with a friend, or the business man working on a deal, text messengers have become a big part of our driving mentality.

Accident experts have determined that cell phone talking or texting while driving is as dangerous as driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. We simply can't concentrate on operating a vehicle as well when we're multi-tasking. There have been countless accidents attributed to driving while texting or talking on hand-held devices.

"Our legislation will help to educate folks that responsibility and common sense go hand-in-hand when operating a 4,000-pound potential battering ram," said Markosek. "This legislation is proof that the legislature does listen to the public outcry."

"Study after study after study has proven conclusively that using a handheld electronic device while driving has essentially the same effect as the the driver getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, and that is unacceptable, " said House Speaker Keith R. McCall. "The message is simple: hang up and drive. When you're behind the wheel it's time to pay attention to the road, not check your e-mail."

Pennsylvania is joining 19 other states in enacting such a law. In 2008, one out of every six fatal car crashes involved distracted drivers, a statistic that is staggering.

The measure bans all handheld use of mobile phones, smart phones, personal digital assistants or portable computers while the vehicle is in motion, with the exception of devices being used exclusively as global positioning or navigation systems, or devices that are permanently installed in the vehilce.

Exceptions to the ban include situations where the vehicle is at a complete stop and the vehicle's transmission is shifted to neutral or park, drivers calling 911 or dialing mobile phones that allow hands-free operation for conversation.

The $50 fine would be doubled to $100 if the infraction takes place in a school zone, active work zone, highway safety corridor or emergency response area.

This law, once and for all, should limit the amount of texting that goes on in moving vehicles. The law is for the good of everyone on the open roads who have to deal with this kind of activity every day. There isn't a driver out there who hasn't had a close call because they've had to deal with someone who's been distracted by a motorist using a cell phone.

The bill should have the same impact as the one that required the wearing of seat belts.

It makes sense. If you have to use a phone while traveling, pull over to the side of the road and complete your call. It's a new habit that might cost you a couple of extra minutes on your journey, but it just might save your life.

Bob Urban

rurban@tnonline.com [1]