City Council discusses cell phone ban for drivers

Taylor Rogers

As the General Assembly considers a no texting while driving bill, Kent City Council could be discussing a similar ban of its own in the near future.

William Lillich, Kent public safety director, recently compiled a report on the effects of cell phone distraction for council to consider.

Lillich’s report examined not just the texting aspect of cell phone usage, but the distraction of a phone call as well. He said he simply had to update existing information, as the idea was pushed around in council a few years ago but never made it anywhere.

“There is an apprehension to create little islands of enforcement that tend to be counterproductive in some way,” he said.

Lillich said John Kuhar, Ward 4 councilmember and chair of the Health and Safety Committee, requested the information so Kent could potentially follow Columbus’ lead.

“I am 100 percent for that,” Kuhar said. “I just think when you’re driving an automobile, you have not only your life but your passengers’ life, pedestrians and other drivers in your hands.”

In his letter to City Manager Dave Ruller, Lillich suggested the ban would be more productive as a statewide law.

Lillich could soon see just how productive.

The Ohio House recently passed House Bill 99, which characterizes texting and driving within the state as a primary offense. The House has approved a bill like this in the past only to have it refused by the Senate.

John Ivanic, communications director for the Legislative Research Office in Columbus, said it would probably die there again. Senate is expected to examine the bill during its committee meetings sometime next week.

Columbus legislators, along with law enforcement and AAA, teamed up Thursday for a no texting while driving rally at the Statehouse.

Ivanic said they’re calling on the General Assembly to finally pass HB 99.

Columbus currently has its own ban in place, which allows law enforcement to issue $150 fines for those caught texting while driving within its limits.

“Basically our message to the state Senate is: ‘Do what we have already done,’” Ivanic said.

The process of making it a ban in Kent could take months.

In May, a city-wide ban on cell phones while driving took effect in Columbus. Making the ban official was a three or fourth month process. Ivanic said it involved “very public discussion.”

Columbus City Council held two community meetings, allowing the public to voice support or protest for the legislation. It also called on local first responders, including emergency room doctors, safety forces and victims of texting while driving accidents to present why they did or didn’t think the ban was a good idea.

“What we found was texting while driving is part of a bigger picture of distracted driving,” Ivanic said, adding that it’s important to single out texting because it’s become so second nature.

“We do it while we walk, while we talk, while we drive,” he said, “so we needed to get people to understand this is a very dangerous form of distracted driving.”

He said Columbus’ ban is simply a way to keep the issue on everyone’s radar.

“We didn’t care how many tickets were written,” he said. “We wanted to start a community dialogue.”

Kent City Council has not yet set a date to discuss a ban, but Kuhar said he thinks it will be revisited if the state doesn’t take action.

Whitney Chaffin contributed reporting.

Contact Taylor Rogers at [email protected].