In practice, the new law that took effect
Figures detailing exactly how much of a weight this adds to court caseload were not immediately available. But 4,500 citations have been handed out, all requiring a court appearance, with about half of them already adjudicated, all but 230 ending in convictions. Making the court appearance, especially if there's no intent to contest the charge, seems largely a waste of time for the cited driver and probably puts the courts and prosecutors through a pointless exercise, too.
Lawmakers should revisit the state's distracted-driving law and eliminate the need for court appearances for those who are not contesting the citation, which is now treated as a traffic violation.
An amended law should retain the requirement that distracted drivers caught in areas where pedestrians are especially vulnerable -- school zones and construction areas -- pay the higher fine. But the increases requiring a check of past offenses could be eliminated without severely weakening the law's deterrent effect.
Distracted driving bans have been on the county books for several years, but the rules became clearer statewide in the 2012 legislative session with the passage of Act 74. The state law supersedes the county bans, calling for a
Using a headset or hands-free device is allowed for drivers 18 and older (underage drivers can only legally call 911). Enforcement is made somewhat simpler because the officer doesn't need to catch anyone actually talking, texting or otherwise operating an electronic device; it's enough for him or her to see the driver simply holding it.
Enforcement of its laws needs to be aggressive, but adding to the court load seems counterproductive. Handing a driver a fat fine with every offense, even the first, ought to produce enough pain for most drivers to rethink their commitment to safety on the road.
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