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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Statute Prohibiting Text-Based Communications

On March 8, 2012, Pennsylvania's new anti-texting legislation went into effect.  75 Pa.C.S. § 3316.  I've been getting a fair number of questions about the new law—the full text of which is included after the jump—so I thought I'd put down a few thoughts.

First off, the bill does exactly what it sounds like: it prohibits texting.  That doesn't include fiddling with your radio, dialing a phone number to make a call, or using your GPS.

If you get stopped, the police aren't permitted to take your phone under this statute, although they are not prohibited from doing so for some other appropriate purpose.  The ticket is for $50 and carries no points for non-commercial drivers, nor will it appear on your driving record.  There are no enhanced penalties for second or subsequent offenses.

One of the most interesting facets of this statute is that it expressly " supersedes and preempts all ordinances of any municipality with regard to the use of an interactive wireless communications device by the driver of a motor vehicle."  That strongly suggests that the Philadelphia ban on voice calls while driving is no longer good law. 

Another implication of the statute is that it gives rise to greater civil liability for drivers by exposing them to suit under a theory of negligence per se.  Consider, for instance, the relative liability of a driver who stops suddenly while texting, and is then struck from behind.  Under prior Pennsylvania law, fault for the rear-end accident is (nearly) always placed on the rear vehicle, on the theory that all drivers should be prepared to stop when necessary.  With the aid of the new texting statute, the rear vehicle could argue that the other driver was negligent per se by breaking the new texting law.

The theory hasn't been tested yet—after all, the law is just a few days old—but it'd be worth requesting texting records during discovery in auto-accident cases all the same.

75 Pa.C.S. § 3316

(a) Prohibition.--No driver shall operate a motor vehicle on a highway or trafficway in this Commonwealth while using an interactive wireless communications device to send, read or write a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion. A person does not send, read or write a text-based communication when the person reads, selects or enters a telephone number or name in an interactive wireless communications device for the purpose of activating or deactivating a voice communication or a telephone call.

(b) (Reserved).
(c) Seizure.--The provisions of this section shall not be construed as authorizing the seizure or forfeiture of an interactive wireless communications device, unless otherwise provided by law.
(d) Penalty.--A person who violates subsection (a) commits a summary offense and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of $50.
(e) Preemption of local ordinances.--In accordance with section 6101 (relating to applicability and uniformity of title), this section supersedes and preempts all ordinances of any municipality with regard to the use of an interactive wireless communications device by the driver of a motor vehicle.
(f) Definition.--As used in this section, the term “text-based communication” means a text message, instant message, electronic mail or other written communication composed or received on an interactive wireless communications device.


1 comment:

Rock said...

It's a shame how the PA courts no longer support the people.

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