Target 11 investigates texting while driving

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PITTSBURGH,None —

After lawmakers passed the texting ban last week, Target 11 hit the road to see how many drivers are actually texting behind the wheel. 

Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle found drivers using their hand held cell phones. But it was tough to tell what they were doing on their phones.  Some of the drivers appeared to be texting, surfing the internet, and even searching for contacts.

Earle even asked three drivers if they have ever texted while driving.

“I can't answer that. Yea I’m sure at some point I have probably before the law passed in New York,” said an attorney from New York, where the use of a hand held phone is against the law.

“Yes I'm guilty for sure,” said another driver from Washington, Pa. 

 “I have. I think most people have,” said a former Pa. resident who now lives in the state of Indiana.

Texting while driving can be very dangerous, and even deadly.  

In Kentucky, the driver of a tractor trailer had been texting and talking on his hand held cell phone just seconds before he slammed into a van killing 11 people.

While Pennsylvania doesn’t keep track of accidents caused by texting drivers, the state does track whether a driver is using a cell phone.

Target 11 obtained those records from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Since 2006, there have been 5,755 crashes and 44 fatalities involving drivers using hand held cell phones.

While drivers using hands-free cell phones, like those with Bluetooth technology, were only involved in 282 accidents and two fatalities during that same time period.

AAA is behind a texting ban on the way in Pennsylvania. The organization lobbied for lawmakers to pass the legislation.

 “You are six times more likely to be in a crash if you are sending a text message because your eyes are off the road,” said AAA spokeswoman Bevi Powell.

But a study by the Highway Loss Data Institute revealed that accidents increased in several states after they adopted texting bans.

The study blamed drivers engaging in even more dangerous behavior by trying to avoid police by lowering their cell phones while texting.

While most drivers told Target 11 that they think a texting ban is a good idea, some drivers indicated that it just doesn’t go far enough.

It restricts the use of texting on the cell phone, but it does not prohibit a driver from looking down to dial a number into the cell phone.

And furthermore some drivers told us they don’t know how police will be able to tell if they are just dialing the phone or texting?

“It will be difficult to enforce because I don't believe a police officer will be able to get in to your phone to see exactly what you were doing," said driver Dave Bish.

Target 11 talked to State Representative Joe Markosek of Monroeville. 

The democratic lawmaker introduced legislation last year to ban hand held cell phones. That legislation didn’t pass.

Markosek said that a texting ban is a good start. 

“The feedback I get from people is that this ought to be stronger,” said Markosek, who also indicated that drivers need to take some personal responsibility when they get behind the wheel.

“At some point in time the public has to take some responsibility for themselves when they get behind the wheel of a huge weapon,” Markosek said.

Under the new law that will go into effect four months after the Governor signs the bill, police can pull over a driver for texting. 

Police are not allowed to confiscate the cell phone. 

Drivers caught texting face a $50 fine.