With Pennsylvania's new texting-while-driving law in effect and PennDOT's “Just Drive, PA" campaign underway, the IUP Regional Highway Safety Project has partnered with PennDOT, local law enforcement, AAA, and several safety organizations to raise public awareness about the need to eliminate distractions while driving.

Last year, 58 people lost their lives in more than 14,200 crashes in Pennsylvania that involved a distracted driver.

“You'd never think of driving with your eyes closed for five seconds, but that's the average time it takes to send or receive a text,” said Bevi Powell, coordinator of the Regional Highway Safety Project. “At a speed of 55 miles per hour, it can be compared to driving the length of a football field blindfolded.”

Pennsylvania's new law prohibits as a primary offense any driver from using an interactive wireless communications device to send, read, or write a text-based communication while his or her vehicle is in motion.

In plain language, this means law enforcement can pull drivers over and fine them for sending, reading, or receiving a text message; instant message; email; or other written communication on a cell phone, smart phone, portable or mobile computer, or similar devices.

The fine is $50 plus court costs and additional fees. The violation carries no points and will not be recorded on the driver record for noncommercial drivers.

The law does not include the use of a GPS device or any system or device that is physically or electronically integrated into the vehicle, and does not authorize the seizure of a device.

The IUP Regional Highway Safety Project has recently participated in high school safety events focusing on distracted driving. Using a Wii and the game Mario Cart, students can see how their driving performance compares when they're concentrating versus when they're trying to text.

The project also coordinates Survival 101 Programs for local law enforcement officers to present to high school students. The programs focus on the need to make positive choices and the repercussions from making poor ones. The officers incorporate distracted-driving messages into their presentation.

Powell reminds drivers there are distractions both inside and outside the vehicle that can be detrimental to safe driving.

Texting is especially dangerous, though, because it includes three types of distraction:

  • physical, taking your hands off the wheel;
  • visual, taking your eyes off the road; and
  • cognitive, taking your mind off driving and therefore slowing your reactions.

IUP's Highway Safety Project is a federally funded program through PennDOT, housed at the IUP Highway Safety Center. The center brings together IUP personnel from various disciplines and professional backgrounds to solve problems related to highway traffic safety.

For more information about distracted driving or to request a free distracted-driving program, contact the IUP Highway Safety Project at (724) 357-4877.