York County ranks seventh statewide in the number of texting-while-driving citations that have been issued.

Experts have long said cellphone use is a major distraction for drivers and can easily lead to crashes.

"In many cases (distracted driving) mirrors drunken driving," said Chief Mark Bentzel of Northern York County Regional Police.

Police officers in York County issued 61 citations for texting while driving between March 2013 and February 2014, according to data from AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The majority of those citations appear to have been issued by one department.

Bentzel said officers in his department issued 43 citations since the start of 2013.

The numbers: Cumberland, Dauphin and Lancaster counties also rated in the top 15 on the statewide list. According to the data, 20 citations were issued in Cumberland County, 32 in Dauphin County and 38 in Lancaster County between March 2013 and February 2014.

Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, was at the top of the list with 126 citations.

Jenny Robinson, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia-based AAA Mid-Atlantic, said she compiled the list after receiving figures from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Police in York County issued 64 citations between when the law took affect in March 2012 and February 2013.

Texting while driving is a primary offense, meaning police officers can pull a driver over if they see the driver texting. The offense carries a $50 fine.

Issues: But the law isn't exactly easy to enforce, the law enforcement officials said.

Unless a driver pulled over for texting admits to the offense, it can be difficult for a police officer to prove the offense did occur because the officer can't seize phones.

"It certainly isn't the easiest offense for an officer to observe," said Chief Greg Bean of Southwestern Regional Police.

Drivers are still permitted to dial phone numbers and enter an address into a GPS app. The texting ban also doesn't apply to drivers texting while stopped at a red light.

Bentzel said a solution would be to make all cellphone use, other than using it with a hands-free device, illegal while driving, something he said he pushed for.

"I would hope the legislators would eventually move forward with going hands-free," he said.

Police and other first responders are exempt from the texting ban, but Bentzel said Northern Regional's policy is that officers must use a hands-free device when using a cellphone.

Safety: In 2012, there were 57 distracted driver deaths in the state. That's two fewer that were reported the previous year.

A driver who's driving 40 mph and looks away from the road for three seconds would travel 180 feet. It's another couple of seconds, and even more distance, for the driver to react to an obstacle, such as another car or a person on the road, Chief Bean said.

"When you put it in those terms, a lot can happen," he said.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.