Don't text and drive
“Some people say it might be hard to enforce, but 85 percent of Ohioans are now wearing safety belts.”
— Rep. Rex Damschroder
“It is very dangerous, and people shouldn’t do it, young drivers particularly, but it’s one of those basic freedom issues for me.”
— Rep. Lynn Wachtmann
It’s time to put the phone away. Ohio is set to join 38 other states where it is illegal to text while operating a motor vehicle. On Tuesday of this week the Ohio House of Representatives passed a ban on texting by a vote of 82–12. The Senate had previously passed the ban and it will soon go to Governor Kasich who has indicated that he will sign the measure.
Under the provisions of the law, it will be illegal in Ohio to drive a motor vehicle on any street or highway “while using a handheld electronic wireless communication device to write, send or read a text-based communication.” The bill will be effective 90 days after it is signed by the governor and contains a six month grace period in which only warnings can be given.
Several acts are exempted from the bill. Texting in an emergency — to contact a doctor, hospital or law enforcement is permitted. Law enforcement officers and other emergency workers are also exempt if they have to use an electronic device in the course of their duties. Exemptions also exist if you are using the device to enter a phone number to make a telephone call and if you are stopped — though in the latter case only if your vehicle is not in a lane of travel (being stopped at a red light is not good enough). Hands free devices and GPS navigators are also exempt.
In general, the ban is not a “primary offense.” That means that a law enforcement officer could not pull you over solely on the basis of an observation that you were texting while driving. However, if an officer stops you for another offense such as speeding, then a second, separate offense could be filed for using the telecommunications device.
A separate section applies to drivers under the age of 18. That section prohibits all use of cellular and wireless communication devices, not just texting. It contains exemptions only for hands free devices, emergency communication and use of the devices while the vehicle is stopped and off the roadway. More importantly, the provision that applies to juvenile drivers is a primary offense that subjects them to being stopped and issued a citation.
For adult drivers, the offense is a minor misdemeanor and subject to the same penalties that apply to other minor misdemeanor offenses such as speeding offenses, though it allows local municipalities to impose more serious penalties under city and village ordinances. The juvenile offense carries a mandatory fine of $100.00 and a mandatory license suspension of 60 days. A second offense as a juvenile would bring a $300 fine and a one year license suspension. Juvenile driver education courses will now also be required to include instruction about the dangers of texting and driving.
The more serious penalties for juveniles arise as the result of a long history of serious or fatal accidents involving juveniles and distracted driving. The House heard testimony about a series of fatal accidents — a juvenile who killed a motorcyclist while texting; another who died while talking to her mother on her cell phone. Just last week two Colerain Township juveniles, one an exchange student from Denmark, were killed when they failed to yield and slammed into a semi. The Butler County Sheriff’s Office released records on Monday that showed that the driver had sent a text message within seconds of the crash.
For the past nine years, Judge Spicer has been kind enough to allow me to preside over the juvenile traffic court docket. Each week between 15 and 30 juveniles come into court with a parent to answer to a traffic citation ranging from speeding to running stop signs to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Each time a juvenile is before the court because of an accident, I inquire about what caused the accident. Rarely does a week go by without a juvenile, or multiple juveniles, admitting that they got into an accident because they were looking at their phone, adjusting their radio or otherwise distracted in their vehicle.
For your safety and the safety of everyone around you, it’s time to put the phone away.
David Hejmanowski is a Magistrate and Court Administrator at the Delaware County Juvenile Court and a former Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.