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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Driving In Ohio? Turn Off Your Damned Cell Phone

Recently it was reported that First Ward Portsmouth City Councilman Kevin W. Johnson asked Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen to confer with City Solicitor John Haas to look into the legality and feasibility of Portsmouth making cell phone calls a primary offense while driving unless they are using hands-free equipment.

Johnson said a bill currently before the Ohio Legislature, known as House Bill 637, would make texting while driving a primary offense. Johnson believed that legislation would be nothing new for the city. He explained:

“In Portsmouth, texting while driving is already a primary offense,” Johnson said. “This legislation, which I introduced, precedes the current state legislation. In discussing this issue with Police Chief Rob Ware yesterday, he indicated that not one ticket has yet to be written for texting while driving as officers in cruisers cannot easily tell whether the driver is texting or dialing to make a call; which, unfortunately, is legal.”

Here is the crux of the primary offense ordinance (passed in 2013) which is currently in effect in Portsmouth:

“No Texting While Driving” bans writing, sending or reading a text-based communication illegal, with the exception of law enforcement agency, health and hospital care provider, fire department or other types of emergency agency or entity. The law makes it a primary offense for anyone, not just teens, caught texting and driving in the city. No other infraction needs be noted. The fine for a first offense is $150.  

In July, 2013, Portsmouth Police Department, Chief Robert Ware committed to council that the PPD would be ticketing more offenses under Portsmouth ordinances; which includes texting while driving since they had obtained grant for enforcement and the eventual addition of three new officers on the  Portsmouth Police Department. 

Johnson also wanted to know if anyone had collected data on how many secondary offense tickets have thus far been issued in Ohio for texting while driving.

In Ohio, Lyndhurst, Moreland Hills, Portsmouth and Pepper Pike have made texting subject to primary enforcement. And, Brooklyn, North Olmsted, North Royalton, South Euclid, Walton Hills, Beachwood, Marietta, Shaker Heights and Woodmere have all outlawed handheld cell phone use for all drivers. 

I think texting or using a cell phone while driving is extremely dangerous. I strongly support state-wide legislation that makes both of these activities illegal primary offenses. Law-abiding drivers need protection from those who routinely text and/or talk while driving.

I am painfully aware of how common it is to observe drivers using phones and other electronic devices, and I despise such distractions from the basic attention to operating a motor vehicle. If it takes more stringent laws and stiffer penalties to make drivers more responsible, then we must do so. Personally, I want much stricter laws and increased enforcement that would aid in stopping these precarious behaviors.

At the same time, I do realize that enforcing any such laws is troublesome for police. A certain amount of judgment is involved in the arrests, and drivers charged with any such violation can lie saying emergency conditions required their operation of the devices. Still, one or two seconds of lost attention to driving can lead to major injuries and fatalities, and I would support police ticketing texters and cell users whenever they observe the behaviors.

Any distraction while driving -- visual, manual, or cognitive -- can endanger the driver and others.  How big is the threat to health? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these facts show the enormity of the problem of distracted driving:

*  In 2012, 3,328 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,360 in 2011. An additional, 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012, a 9% increase from the 387,000 people injured in 2011.

*  In 2011, nearly one in five crashes (17%) in which someone was injured involved distracted driving.

*  In December 2012, more than 171 billion text messages were sent or received in the US.

(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Facts and Statistics. 2014)

What Are the Present Laws in Ohio?

Let's examine House Bill 99 signed by the Governor on June 1, 2012.

If you're under age 18 (a novice driver):
*It is illegal to use any electronic wireless communications device while driving in Ohio.

This means:
  • No texting
  • No e-mailing
  • No talking on your cell phone, Bluetooth, Bluetooth speakers, On-Star or any similar device
  • No computers, laptops or tablets
  • No playing video games
  • No using your GPS (unless it's a voice-operated or hands-free device)
  • --- Even when you are sitting at a light or stuck in traffic 
It's a Primary Offense:  Law enforcement can stop you for any of the above reasons.

First violation: $150 fine, driver license suspended for 60 days

Second and/or subsequent violations: $300 fine, driver license suspended for one year

Exceptions: Pre-programmed GPS, vehicles in a stationary position and outside a lane of travel, emergency calls to law enforcement, hospital, fire department, etc.

Adult drivers (18 years or older):

*It is Illegal to use a handheld electronic wireless communications device to write, send or read a text while driving in Ohio.

Minor misdemeanor, could face a fine of up to $150

Ohio's cell phone and texting ban for novice drivers is a “primary” law. A primary law means that an officer can pull over a novice driver for texting or cell phone use without having to witness some other violation. That is, the officer sees the novice driver texting and simply issues a citation.

How Dangerous Is It to Text and Drive?

* 40% of all American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger (The Pew Center for Research)

* About 50% of teens surveyed admit to texting while driving (AT&T Poll, 2012).

* Texting while driving takes your eyes off the road for about five seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of a football field - 100 yards - with your eyes closed (U.S. Department of Transportation)

* You are 23 times more likely to crash while texting and driving (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute)

Want To Argue About the Safety 
of Using a Cell Phone While Driving?

Do you think the law shouldn't "pick on" cell phone users?

According to the National Safety Council (2014) even though texting while driving has an unbelievable "eight to twenty-three odds ratio of crashing," cell phone use while driving has about a "four times odds ratio." There is no difference between hands-held and hands-free devices. 

But, here is the "kicker" to the great danger of talking on a cell while driving -- the prevalence of the use.

How often are people gambling on the odds? The Safety Council reports about 10 percent of all drivers are talking on a cell phone while driving. That is simply off the charts as compared with other distractions. At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010. (The National Occupant Protection Use Survey)

69% of drivers in the United States ages 18-64 reported that they had talked on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that although there is a serious under-reporting bias in the data, there are trends which show that cellular telephone use is a growing factor in crashes.

The National Safety Council reports that in simulated driving tests, those subjects who were asked to carry on a cell phone conversation were so distracted that they went unaware of some traffic signals. The study tangentially examines the psychology of a conversation, especially the participation level required, versus other “listening” behaviors such as audio books and news radio.

It seems that the more emotionally engaged the subject, the less attentive to safety signals. The results were unaffected by whether the subject manually held the phone or if the mechanism was hands free, a reason why some believe hands-free initiatives are a weak and ineffectual way to control cell phone use while driving. There is support for the theory that the use of a cell phone impairs a driver's ability as much as driving drunk.

Here is the alarming reality: Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States every year, according to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

(Robert Roy Britt. "Drivers on Cell Phones Kill Thousands, Snarl Traffic. 
LiveScience. February 01, 2005)

Portsmouth, Ohio ... Scioto County ... The State of Ohio ... The United States of America, I beg you to consider the undeniable risks and dangers of of texting or talking on a cell phone while driving.

With extra protection for novice drivers in place, we are presently saving many young lives; however, we must also commit to saving the lives of others of all ages. Let's make using electronic devices while driving illegal. Period. Let's arrest all offenders and stop the madness.

No one -- even those with two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road -- can give their undivided attention to driving while texting or while talking on a cell phone.

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