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Statewide texting while driving ban signed into law

Photo illustration by Cody Cousino / photo editor

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a text-ban bill into law that prohibits all drivers from texting while driving and minors from using electronic devices while driving.

Officers from the Columbus Division of Police said not much will change for Columbus residents who already face a local texting ban.

The statewide ban signed Friday will make it illegal for all drivers to text while driving and places an additional ban for minors of all hand-held electronic devices while driving, including iPads, laptops and computer tablets, except in emergencies. All drivers will be allowed to use voice-activated navigation devices.

Kasich, whose parents were killed by a drunk driver, said the law will help prevent deaths caused by distracted drivers. He said the texting ban is a “good law that was needed in our state.”

“For those people who might think that this is somehow an invasion of their rights, come meet these families, talk to them about the fact that somebody was not responsible, because when we call, we text when we drive, we endanger the lives of others … (and) bring tragedy to families that in all likelihood could have been avoided,” Kasich said before signing the bill.

For adults, texting while driving is a secondary offense, meaning that drivers caught texting must have been pulled over for violating another traffic violation that occurred first. Adults cited for texting while driving face a fine of up to $150.

Minors caught texting while driving or using a hand-held electronic device while driving will be charged with a primary offense. Minors face a $150 fine and a 60-day license suspension for the first offense and a $300 fine and one-year suspension for subsequent citations.

The Ohio House of Representatives has been working on a version of the text ban since last June, but the original version, which made the ban a primary offense for all drivers, stalled in the Senate. The Senate’s revisions to ban minors from using hand-held electronic devices while driving, and to make violating the ban a primary offense, passed 25-8 on May 3. The bill passed in the House on May 15 by a vote of 82-12.

Connie Wehrkamp, deputy press secretary for Kasich, said the law will have 90 days before it will take effect. Drivers will be given a six-month grace period from when the law takes effect, where officers will issue warnings rather than fines and license suspensions.

Sgt. Richard Weiner of the Columbus Police Department said Columbus has had a ban against texting since May 2010.

The Columbus City Code Texting Ban states that, “no person shall operate a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device to 1) compose, send or read a text message; or 2) send, read, create play or interact with internet-based content.”

The code defines a “mobile communication device” as any portable electronic device that can send text-based messages, including a cellphone, laptop and digital assistant.

Exemptions are made for emergencies and when a car is parked and removed from the flow of traffic.

Sgt. Christine Nemchev of Columbus Police said that in Columbus, the only distinction made between drivers who are minors and those over 18 is that minors must go to court.

All drivers are charged with the same code and pay the same fine.

The statewide ban on texting would not override local texting bans, causing some to suggest that a violator could receive one ticket for violating the local law and another for the state law. Nemchev said it would not be possible for Columbus drivers to receive two tickets or pay two fines.

“We would charge either under a city code or a state code,” Nemchev said. “We would not charge the same violation under both codes.”

Nemchev said it is up to the officer’s discretion to determine whether the local or state law is more appropriate in a given circumstance.

Edwards said that if there is a city texting ban in place, officers prefer to cite violators under the city code. Local anti-texting laws exist in cities such as Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Gahanna, Westerville, Hilliard and Bexley.

Some people have said that while they support the new statewide law, they question its enforceability.

“I think it’s a good idea that they (ban texting while driving). It helps keep people safe and keep(s) other traffic violations from happening,” said Alex Clark, a first-year in marketing. “I think it will be a little tough to enforce, but if they can, that’s great.”

Weiner said that while laws against texting can be difficult to enforce, police officers in Columbus have been able to charge violators of the local law for the past two years.

“Does it have its challenges? Yes it does. But can it be proved? Yes it can,” Weiner said.

Weiner said the most common way to determine that the texting law has been violated is in traffic accidents that result in serious injury or death. If an officer is suspicious that a driver involved in the accident was texting while driving, the officer can issue a subpoena for the driver’s phone records.

Aside from traffic accidents, Weiner said patrolling officers who see someone texting while driving have probable cause to pull the driver over and issue a citation.

“If you’re in a moving vehicle and you look over and see somebody holding their phone and they’re texting, emailing, that applies,” Weiner said. “You can go ahead and issue them a citation.”

Danielle Ciniello, a first-year in criminology, said that with more attention drawn to anti-texting laws, she believes people will be less likely to text while driving.

“They’ll definitely stop doing it just to avoid getting tickets,” Ciniello said. “(It’s) like there’s still people who speed, but there’s less people who speed because they don’t want to get caught.”

Donte Allison, a first-year in business, was less optimistic.

“I don’t think it will stop them. I think it’s a habit (people have) formed, and they think it’s probably hard to get caught,” Allison said. “I think they will still do it.”

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