Keep your eyes on the road and your thumbs off the phone.
Pennsylvania's law prohibiting texting while driving goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow. Violators risk a $50 fine.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed the legislation into law on Nov. 9, 2011. The law makes reading or typing a text message while driving a primary offense, meaning that a person can be cited solely for violating that law instead of along with another citable infraction.
"Senate Bill 314 aims to put a halt to texting from behind the wheel and is intended to save lives. No text message is worth a human life. The message of this legislation is drive now and text later," he said at the signing.
The increasing use of cell phones and other wireless devices while driving is putting more people at risk.
More than 1 in 4 (26 percent) of drivers admitted to typing or sending a text message or email while driving during the preceding 30 days; and more than 1 in 3 (35 percent) report reading a text message or email while driving in the past month, according to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report released in January.
In Pennsylvania, there were nearly 14,000 crashes in 2010 in which distracted driving played a role, according to the state Department of Transportation. Sixty-eight people died in those crashes.
Any distraction of drivers – other passengers, talking on a hand-held phone or headset, eating, drinking, changing radio stations – increases the risk of crashes, but texting is the most dangerous, experts say.
"Texting is the most alarming distraction because it involves manual, visual, and cognitive distraction simultaneously. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded. It's extraordinarily dangerous," says distraction.gov, the U.S. Government's website for distracted driving.
And that's why state Sen. John T. Yudichak, D-Carbon, Monroe, co-sponsored the legislation, SB 314, initiated by Sen. Robert M. Tomlinson, R-Bucks.
"I supported the ban because cell phone use while driving, particularly texting, is dangerous – flat-out dangerous – for the driver and for other motorists. The advance of technology seems to be far outpacing old-fashioned common sense," he said.
Yudichak said he's seen a lot of distracted drivers in the time he spends traveling the state highways, but none so dangerous as texting while driving.
"It's quick almost an extension of our fingertips. But when you are traveling 55 mph, you need to keep your eyes on the road to arrive safely," he said.
"The bottom line for me is that this bill is all about public safety. It's a big step forward for Pennsylvania," Yudichak said.
State Sen. David G. Argall supported the bill.
"Too often we open the newspapers to read about innocent lives taken due to distracted driving," said Argall, who was urged by an overwhelming number of constituents to support this measure. "The law seeks to prevent texting behind the wheel and making our state a better, safer place for everyone. I hope this takes the focus off the cell phone and back on the road."
About 30 other states already have prohibited texting while driving.
PennDOT on Monday issued a press release lauding the law.
"Your most important job when behind the wheel is to focus only on driving. Most people would never close their eyes for five seconds while driving, but that's how long you take your eyes of the road, or even longer, every time you send or read a text message," said PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch. "It's not just your own life you're risking; it's the lives and safety of every motorist around you."
State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan also weighed in.
"This is a serious problem and we are hoping that we can educate citizens on the dangers of texting while driving and prevent future accidents," he said. "Our troopers will attempt to use observations of the driver while the vehicle is in motion to determine if traffic stops are warranted. An example might be the motorist continues to manipulate the device over an extended distance with no apparent voice communication. Ultimately, we hope that our enforcement efforts will create voluntary compliance by the majority of motorists," he said.