Drivers may say ‘ttyl’ to texting

Betz Rund

Grabbing a quick bite on the way to class, taking a drink of water, changing a radio station, sending a short text or even talking on the phone are all things most people have done at one time or another while driving a car.

One of them may soon be illegal in Ohio.

On March 24, the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 415, a ban that would prohibit drivers from reading, writing or sending text messages on electronic communication devices including cell phones, PDAs and computers. The Ohio Senate has yet to pass the bill.

Drivers using electronic devices in response to emergencies, law enforcement and drivers using GPS devices will be exempt from the ban.

If caught, drivers could face misdemeanor charges with up to $150 in fines, though the bill has a built in grace period of six months after it is passed where a driver would receive a warning first.

“I think texting (while driving) is extremely dangerous, (and) we do need to have a law against it,” said state Rep. Kathleen Chandler (D-Kent).

Lt. Jayme Cole of the Kent Police Department agreed with Chandler’s sentiment but questioned the proposed law’s effectiveness.

Cole said distracted driving, regardless of the type of distraction, is usually noticeable, but it’s hard to pinpoint text messaging as the cause unless the officer saw the driver texting.

Cole added that the ban could be difficult to enforce because a driver could simply cancel out of the texting function or close his or her phone as the officer approaches.

Adding to the potential difficulty, drivers who are dialing or searching for a phone number will also be exempt from the ban.

Though the ban may raise potential problems on the enforcement side, the misgivings did not stop Chandler from voting for the ban.

“When you’re doing texting and sending messages, you can’t look at your little device and watch the road,” Chandler said.

Indeed, sending and reading text messages can be dangerous and some studies claim it is the most dangerous type of driving distraction.

According to a study done by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, a driver dialing a cell phone is 2.8 times more likely to get in a car crash than a non-distracted driver.

The study also showed that a truck driver texting while driving is 23.2 times more likely to get into an accident than a driver who is paying full attention and 5.9 times more likely when dialing a cell phone.

“People shouldn’t die because of a text message — and unfortunately that’s happening,” said state Rep. Nancy Garland (D-New Albany).

Garland, one of two representatives who sponsored the bill, even cited the VTI study as one of her reasons for promoting the bill.

For every six seconds of drive time, a driver sending or receiving a text message spends 4.6 of those seconds with their eyes off the road.

“That’s like going the equivalent of a football field at 50 miles per hour,” Garland said.

Garland explained there have been similar bills in the past that tried to ban cell phone use and texting while driving, but they were reduced to being secondary offenses.

Garland said she felt very strongly about making text messaging a primary offense and a misdemeanor as a way to give the bill some teeth.

While Cole is unsure how the potential ban with affect traffic stops, he said he thinks it will be an advantage from the public awareness aspect.

“Fifty percent of this is educating,” Garland said. “Making people aware of the dangers of texting.”

While Chandler said she thinks texting is the same thing as dialing a phone, she is encouraged by the ban and thinks it is a good first step to make the roads safer.

The Ohio Senate isn’t currently in session, but Chandler said she is confident the bill will pass when the session resumes in May.

“I think it will save a lot of lives,” Chandler said.

Contact public affairs reporter Betz Rund at [email protected].