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Distracted driving arrests rise throughout Pennsylvania

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Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
A Franklin Regional senior earned a $2,500 with a video illustrating the dangers of texting while driving.

Police are catching more drivers red-handed three years after the state banned texting while driving.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts reported 1,410 drivers cited for texting while driving in 2014, up from 1,340 in 2013 and 1,190 in 2012, when the law went into effect.

Trooper Adam Reed, spokesman with the Pennsylvania State Police, said the behavior can be deadly. A driver going 55 mph who looks down at his or her phone for six seconds has traveled more than the length of a football field, blindfolded.

“It’s important to have the mindset that it can wait,” Reed said. “Nothing would be that important you put your life at risk or the life of someone else traveling the road with you.”

Federal data show 3,154 people died in crashes involving distracted drivers, and about 424,000 were injured.

Reed said those in law enforcement are seeing an increase in the number of distracted drivers as technology evolves. An increasing number of drivers are being cited under a different statute for using headphones while driving — 711 in 2014, up from 518 in 2013 and 523 in 2012.

“A lot of people just don’t realize that is illegal,” Reed said.

Drivers convicted of texting while driving, a summary offense, must pay a $50 fine, plus court costs and other fees.

A March poll from Erie Insurance about distracted driving found 30 percent of drivers reported texting behind the wheel — and 4 percent reported taking selfies.

Leah Knapp, spokeswoman with Erie, said distracted driving takes three forms: manual, visual or cognitive. Texting, she said, combines all three and persists despite laws and education campaigns.

“These issues are still there,” Knapp said. “As best we can, we encourage people to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road and focus on that primary task of driving safely.”

Men are slightly more likely than women to text while driving — 32 percent compared with 28 percent — as are younger drivers. Per the Erie poll, 51 percent of drivers 18 to 34 reported texting while driving.

Studies from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed six of 10 moderate to severe teenage driver crashes involved distracted driving. Cellphones are their most common distraction, said AAA East Central spokeswoman Chelsea Pompeani.

“They grew up with their phones, so they’re going to get in the car texting while driving,” she said.

Other attention stealers are considerably more analog. Fifteen percent of drivers admitted to having a romantic encounter while driving, according to the Erie poll.

Another 15 percent reported hair styling, 9 percent reported changing clothes and 8 percent reported putting on makeup.

Reed said while these behaviors aren’t banned, they can lead to illegal actions or crashes.

“It may cause you to drive out of your lane, it may cause you to forget to use your turn signal, or go a little faster than the posted speed limit,” he said. “It goes back to the core issue, and that is taking your focus off safely driving your vehicle.”

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or [email protected].

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