Distracted driving citations grow significantly over 5 years in Pa.

Graphic from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts

Distracted driving has become a more serious concern for Pennsylvania law enforcement over the past several years as the number of citations related to the problem continues to climb.

Citations increased by 52 percent statewide in 2017 — and have increased 172 percent since 2013, according to newly released data from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

In Pennsylvania, all drivers are prohibited from texting while driving, which includes sending, reading or writing a text-based message or e-mail, and from wearing or using headphones or earphones while the car is in motion.

PennDOT reports that there were 1,188 total deaths on Pennsylvania roads in 2016, according to information provided by AAA. Sixty-one of those deaths were the result of a crash where a distracted driver was a contributing factor. Information by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the administrative arm of the state Supreme Court, shows police statewide wrote 5,054 distracted driving citations compared to 3,336 in 2016, a 52 percent increase and the highest increase year-over-year since 2013.

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Among the top 10 counties in Pennsylvania with the highest number of distracted driving citations between 2013 and 2017 are Montgomery, Chester, Bucks, Delaware and Berks counties. Chester County was ranked fourth highest with a total of 963 given over that time period while Bucks County followed closely with 859 citations. Additionally, Delaware County gave out 659 citations over the five-year period and Berks County totaled 589.

Among the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, Montgomery County ranked highest in numbers of distracted driving citations from 2013 to 2017. The county totaled 1,695 citations over those years with the highest number of distracted driving citations coming in at 620 in 2017, up 64 percent since 2016, and up 254 percent since 2013.

In addition to the usual written citations drivers can expect with these violations, law enforcement in Montgomery County have also tried other initiatives to combat the problem, including the creation of the Montgomery County Safe Driving Task Force. According to Montgomery County’s website, the force was formed in 2015 and brings together agencies including DUI Administration, AAA, municipal and state police departments, PennDOT, County Courts, the Health Department and the District Attorney’s Office to collaboratively address traffic safety issues focusing on distracted driving with a goal of reducing traffic injuries and fatalities in Montgomery County.

Local law enforcement can attest that distracted driving has become a major part of policing in the county.

“As our area has grown with the population, we’ve seen an increase in traffic and in that traffic we see drivers that are exhibiting bad habits. Our officers have seen drivers eating and drinking while the vehicle is in motion, they’ve seen people grooming, adjusting radios and, obviously more recently, using their cell phones,” said Limerick Township Police Chief Brian Skelton. “I would say it’s every week that an officer in a marked patrol vehicle will ride alongside someone committing these violations.”

Skelton added that his department has noticed, specifically, an increase in fender benders at slower speeds due to distracted driving. Skelton noted that as the population has increased, more people are stuck sitting at traffic lights giving them more opportunities to pick up their phones.

“I encourage people to wait until they reach their destination to pick up their phone,” he added.

Though cellphones have become an added factor to the distracted driving issue, there are some phone apps that can be helpful in preventing distracted driving. These include apps that read texts and emails out loud in real time like DriveSafe.ly and SafeCell, which intercepts calls and texts and auto-responds with a message letting the caller/texter know that you’re driving and can’t be reached.

For a full list of phone apps that can help with the distracted driving problem, visit www.montcopa.org/2471/DISTRACTED-DRIVING-PROGRAMS