Ohio becomes 39th state to ban texting while driving
COLUMBUS, Jun 01, 2012 (The Blade - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Ninety days from today a driver could be given his first warning for texting while driving. Six months after that he could get his first ticket.
Gov. John Kasich, surrounded by families of victims of texting-while-driving accidents, today signed into law a bill making Ohio the 39th state to ban texting behind the wheel for all drivers and one of the few to outlaw the use of all handheld wireless communication devices by drivers under the age of 18.
For younger drivers, that means no texting, e-mailing, talking on a cell phone, or programming a handheld navigational device while in the lane of travel, even if they're sitting at a light or in a traffic jam.
"When they look at this situation, it just seems senseless, that they would have lost a loved one because somebody became a distracted driver,'' Mr. Kasich said. "In one case here, it was a young man who came back on leave from service. He wasn't killed on the battlefield. He was killed in a car accident because somebody wasn't paying attention.''
Similar to Ohio's mandatory seat belt law, it would be a secondary offense to "write, and/or read a text-based communication'' while driving as an adult, meaning that could not be the reason for the traffic stop. The minor misdemeanor would carry a fine of $150.
But for a teen driver, it would be a primary offense, the only reason needed for police to pull the driver over. The first offense would carry a $150 fine and a 60-day license suspension. A subsequent violation would carry a $300 fine and a one-year suspension.
Among the exceptions for teen drivers are the use of a navigational device once it's already been programmed and the use of a device to call police, an ambulance, or another emergency contact.
"This is a bill that affects every Ohioan, whether you text or you drive on the highway, in one way, shape, or form,'' said Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont), who sponsored the bill with Rep. Nancy Garland (D., New Albany).
He was inspired to take up the cause by a trio of three girls who made the issue a class project while seniors at the Vanguard-Sentinel Career and Technology Centers in Fremont after a Clyde motorcyclist was killed. A 16-year-old girl, while texting and driving in the opposite direction, crossed the center line and struck him.
Critics have argued that distracted driving is already illegal in Ohio, that House Bill 99 infringes on personal liberties, and that it could lead to laws outlawing everything from eating to putting on makeup behind the wheel.
They've also argued that it could be difficult to enforce, particularly for adult drivers who can claim they were using their cell phones for reasons other than texting when pulled over for another reason.
"For those people who might think this is somehow invading their rights ... or whatever, come meet these families,'' Mr. Kasich said. "Talk to them about the fact that somebody was not responsible. Because when we call, or we text, and we drive, we endanger the lives of others.''
He said he would favor making the law stricter in the future to address concerns that it's too lax on adult drivers.
The governor became a believer when he participated in a texting-while-driving computerized simulation at the Ohio State Fair.
"Every time I did it, I crashed the car up there--no more of a vivid example to me about the fact that a distracted driver becomes a menace to anybody else on the road," he said.
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