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I-TEAM: Distracted Drivers Flying Under The Radar?

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By Ben Simmoneau

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Distracted drivers. You see them all the time. They’re on the road with a smartphone in one hand and the steering wheel in the other. It’s dangerous and there are laws against this. But not many people in Pennsylvania are getting in trouble for driving and texting. CBS 3’s I-Team reporter Ben Simmoneau hit the street to find out why.

“You know it’s illegal to text behind the wheel?”

That was the question the I-Team posed to driver after driver who was spotted using a cell phone and in some cases even using a tablet device.

“I’m stopping right now,” said one Philly cabdriver.

Another driver with an iPad in his lap denied that he was texting. He thought because he was stopped it was okay to use the device.

We even caught a Philadelphia Parking Authority supervisor cell in hand. She denied texting and said she was just reading.

But that’s still illegal. And it’s a law that can be confusing.

In New Jersey and Delaware, you must be hands-free all the time while driving.

But in Pennsylvania, a law passed last spring allows drivers to use their phones for anything except writing or reading texts and e-mails.

That makes it a very difficult law to enforce. How do police know what you’re doing while you’re holding that cell phone?

Records obtained by the I-Team show that Philadelphia police have written just 168 citations in the six months since the law passed.

That’s not even one citation a day.

Statewide, the count isn’t much better.

Records analyzed by the American Automobile Association found only 640 tickets written in Pennsylvania.

“It’s a meaningless law,” says Bill Green, a democratic councilman-at-large on Philadelphia’s City Council.

Green is angry that the new law tossed out a tougher city law.

Far more tickets were written under that one which banned the use of hand-held devices in the city.

“It’s absolutely clear what happened is when the cell phone industry couldn’t defeat the bill in Philadelphia, they went to Harrisburg,” said Green. “We have the best legislature that money can buy.”

In the Pennsylvania legislature, it was Republican State Senator Tommy Tomlinson who sponsored the no-texting law. He says he wanted a hands free law but the support wasn’t there.

“It’s all I felt we could get accomplished,” Tomlinson said. “If we put the cell phone ban in it, it would not have passed.

The law has the support of AAA.

“Overall we think it’s better to have a consistency throughout the state so you don’t have a patchwork of one law in one place and another law in one place,” said AAA spokesperson, Jenny Robinson.

But without punishment, how do you get people to take the crime seriously?

Another person who was caught texting by the I-team said, “It’s actually just something important.”

It’s always something important.

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