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Bridgeville, Carnegie and Crafton police give very few tickets for texting while driving

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Bridgeville Chief Chad King

As Bridgeville police Chief Chad King monitored the sidewalk repairs on Washington Avenue last summer, he noticed a girl texting while driving — violating the state's new law.

The action resulted in a ticket — one of only two the borough's police department issued last year.

Bridgeville wasn't the only community to see little impact from the state's law, which turned a year old in March. Statewide, police issued 1,302 citations for texting while driving in the first year of the law — including 110 in Allegheny County — according to data compiled by AAA.

The low number of citations, King said, is a result of the difficulty of enforcement.

“You can tell, if you're watching someone in traffic, if they're texting or not,” King said. “But knowing that and proving it are two different things if you get called to the carpet on it.”

The law carries a $50 fine as a primary offense. It prohibits drivers from texting and engaging in other written communications such as email on cellphones and other mobile devices.

However, the law is difficult to prove because drivers can say they were dialing the phone instead of texting, King said. If a police officer asks to see a driver's phone, the driver can tell the officer to “go pound salt,” he said.

“You don't have the power to seize it,” Carnegie police Chief Jeff Harbin said.

Harbin said his department didn't issue any tickets for texting while driving.

Like King, Harbin said the law is difficult to enforce. He also said it doesn't go far enough, as he'd like to see a full ban on using handheld phones while driving.

“I think people take driving for granted,” he said. “They feel they can get behind that wheel and talk on the phone and be distracted and take their mind off the fact that they're driving a 6,000 to 7,000-pound automobile that has the ability to kill. It demands your full attention.”

Harbin said he is guilty of talking on the phone while driving and even texted while driving before the law came into being. More people would stop using their cell phones while driving if a full ban were passed, he said.

A full ban on using handheld mobile devices while driving, which was removed from the text-message law last year before it passed the House, still is in play. State Rep. Joe Markosek (D-Monroeville) is backing a law that would prohibit the use of handheld devices.

“That would be something that would be a lot easier to enforce,” said Crafton police Chief Mark Sumpter, whose department hadn't issued any texting citations.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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