In first year, Pa. police issued 1,302 tickets for texting while driving

In the first year of Pennsylvania’s ban on texting while driving, police issued just 1,302 tickets statewide.

For a sample of the data assembled by AAA, try Berks County, population approximately 412,000 and 13 citations.

This led the obvious question: Why is a texting ban so difficult to enforce?

This is not to be taken as a primer on how to avoid a ticket on the texting while driving law.

But basically, there are three problems for law enforcement.

1. The ban is on texting only. You can still call, use your GPS or check the time. So it can be hard to tell when to pull someone over. Which brings us to No. 2.

2. Drivers can lie. (A spokesman for Pennsylvania State Police, Adam Reed, puts it more diplomatically: “The way the law is written here we don’t have the right as police officers and law enforcement officers to seize someone’s phone. So you kind of have to rely on your interactions with the person at the time that you stop them for the belief that they’re texting.”)

Update 3/14/13 at 3:40 PM: Sheriff Eric Weaknecht of Berks County says his officers issued four of the thirteen tickets issued for the entire county. All four accepted their tickets, but he acknowledges that if they didn’t, the department would not go to the expense of supoenaing their records.

“It comes down to your word against theirs. Ultimately, they can say making phone call.”

3. PennDOT’s Jan McKnight subscribes to the optimistic view, that the ban may have convinced a lot of drivers not to text.

“It’s a deterrent,” she says, even though it won’t stop everybody. “Hopefully, it will make people … aware that they’re breaking the law when they do it, and that they could be pulled over for it.”

Still, when New Jersey had a texting-only ban in place, that state issued 16,000 tickets annually, 12 times more than Pennsylvania’s rate. When Philadelphia had a full-scale ban on phone use while driving, Philadelphia police issued about 13,570 tickets a year. In the year after the new law took effect, they wrote 243.

Nonetheless, beware southeast Pennsylvanians: Nearly half the citations issued in the last year came from the region.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.