Starting Thursday, March 8, and police - along with officers across the state - will begin enforcing Pennsylvania's new law prohibiting text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle.
The law, which makes text-based communications while driving a primary offense carrying a $50 fine, will take effect one minute after midnight on Thursday, according to a PennDOT press release.
“This law is one of those things that can prevent a tragedy,” Horsham Police Department Lt. Jon Clark said.
Clark said text-based communication while driving is widespread and has lead to several accidents in Horsham over the past several years.
The problem is so serious that a study conducted by the University of North Texas Health Science Center found as many as 16,000 people were killed on highways nationwide between 2001 and 2007 due to accidents determined to be caused by texting or talking and driving.
"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," PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch said in a statement.
Horsham officers will be enforcing the law “proactively,” but police officer’s would have the discretion to decide whether a person should receive a ticket or a warning, Clark said.
The new law, according to PennDOT, specifically does the following:
• Makes it a primary offense to use an Interactive Wireless Communication Device (IWCD) to send, read or write a text-based message.
• Defines an IWCD as a wireless phone, personal digital assistant, smartphone, portable or mobile computer or similar devices that can be used for texting, instant messaging, emailing or browsing the Internet.
• Defines a text-based message as a text message, instant message, email or other written communication composed or received on an IWCD.
• Institutes a $50 fine for convictions.
• Makes clear that this law supersedes and preempts any local ordinances restricting the use of interactive wireless devices by drivers.
Clark said he hopes the law and enforcement by police will “encourage people not to [drive distracted.]”