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A new state law requiring Pennsylvania drivers to pull over and stop if they want to use text-based communications went into effect at midnight Thursday, although it remains legal to use a hand-held cellphone behind the wheel.

The statewide texting-while-driving ban carries a $50 fine and gives police authority to pull over suspected violators on sight.

The new law pertains to phones, computers or other devices that can send texts, emails or similar messages. Police are not allowed to seize the devices when they write tickets.

State police said they would watch drivers to see if a stop is warranted, as when someone keeps manipulating a hand-held device without appearing to speak into it. Their goal is voluntary compliance.

“It’s not going to be overnight, let’s be honest about it,” said state Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, who worked for years to enact the new law. “But certainly, over time, it’s going to be part of getting people to get their priorities straight. When they’re driving a car, they need to be focused on the road.”

He said the new law makes Pennsylvania the 38th state, along with Washington, D.C., to prohibit drivers from texting.

The law does not pertain to GPS devices, or systems that are physically or electronically integrated into vehicles, or communications devices attached to mass transit vehicles or buses.

Authorities say there were 14,000 crashes in the state in 2010 in which distracted driving contributed, including 68 fatalities.

A ban on cellphone use by drivers was part of the bill that passed the state Senate in June, but it was removed before final passage in the House.


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