No driving while texting bill is good example of bipartisan agreement

In a rare example of Republicans and Democrats agreeing on something, both houses of the Pennsylvania state legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill last week that outlaws motorists from sending or reading text messages while driving.

The bill, SB 314, calls for a $50 fine on any driver caught “using an interactive wireless communication device to send, read, or write a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion.” This includes text messages, instant messages, and emails — as well as browsing the internet — but the final bill still allows drivers to dial numbers for the purpose of making calls. Police officers are not authorized to confiscate drivers’ phones, but they can pull drivers over for texting as a primary offense.

Voting in both the state House (188–7) and Senate (45–5) was nearly unanimous, as it should have been. Keeping Pennsylvania’s motorists safer may not be as headlining an accomplishment as solving the national debt crisis or getting the economy back on track, but we’re glad to see at least one subject exempt from the endless partisan bickering that has dominated all levels of politics this year. Governor Tom Corbett has indicated he’ll sign the bill into law, but a date for the signing is not set.

We hope the governor gets this sensible piece of legislation taken care of as soon as possible. Tuesday night, a Butler County teenager died in a single-vehicle accident when she drove into a tree, just hours after the texting-ban bill cleared the Senate. Investigators found a cell phone with a half-composed text message at the scene. Thirty-four other states already ban texting while driving; Pennsylvania should not waste any time in becoming the 35th.

Local officials, police officers, and the public at large should follow the state legislature’s example and support the texting ban once it becomes law. Civic leaders must be serious about awareness and enforcement, and motorists must be willing to change their driving habits.

In these days of fragmented politics, we should all capitalize on this uncommon opportunity to get something done for the common good.