YOUNGSTOWN Reactions to cell phone ban mixed
YOUNGSTOWN -- Dave Crook squints toward an intersection from where he stands among the gas pumps at a busy filling station.
"He wasn't looking up at the light," Crook said, pointing toward a driver in the long driveway that stretches to Salt Springs Road.
That driver, Crook said, ran a red light last week, causing an accident.
"He was just jabbering away on his cell phone," Crook said. "When they teach you driving, they say, 'Two hands on the wheel.' "
Crook, 44, works at the Mr. Fuel Travel Center off Interstate 80 in Girard, and he has seen enough cell phone misuse that he thinks the devices should be outlawed in all 50 states.
So far, only the New York Legislature has come closest to adopting such a ban. Lawmakers there approved a bill Monday that would permit drivers to use only hands-free cell phones. N.Y. Gov. George Pataki has said he would sign the bill into law.
Ohio's proposal: In Ohio, such a ban was suggested in May by state Rep. Catherine L. Barrett, D-Cincinnati. Barrett's proposal, which is now before the House Transportation Committee, also would require Ohio motorists to use the hands-free cell phone devices.
She also proposes a doubling of penalties against drivers who cause an accident while using a cell phone.
Alan Guidish, 36, of Sharon, said he nearly has caused a crash while using his cell phone. The sales representative said he is constantly on the phone while driving.
On Tuesday, he was nearly involved in an accident when another cell phone user cut in front of him. "It got the heart rate going," he said.
Jessica Glandorf, 18, of Girard, said she nearly has caused an accident five or six times while using a cell phone.
Both said they would not oppose a limitation on cell phone use.
In Ohio, no statistics are kept to show when cell phone use is involved in a traffic accident. Sgt. Joe Gebhart of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said such accidents would fall under a "driver inattention" category, which would also include accidents caused by a driver eating, smoking, talking to a passenger or distracted in some other way.
In 1999, such accidents caused 38 fatalities, 3 percent of the state's total fatalities, highway patrol statistics show. Deaths caused by driver inattention ranked ninth among the 16 driver-error categories.
Can be helpful: Gebhart said cell phones are perceived by officers as a useful tool rather than a risk. Motorists, he said use them to report suspected drunken drivers, crashes and breakdowns.
Lt. Brian Girts of the OSHP in Canfield also said the phones appear to do more good than harm.
"I don't think there is a high frequency of crashes from people talking on cell phones," he said. "I don't see [that] it's a problem."
Ashley Ellis, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said her office has not received a complaint about cell phone use in the 18 months she has worked there.
A proposal in Warren that would have outlawed cell phone use in that city has died, said police chief John Mandopoulos.
Mandopoulos, who commented for this story while using a cell phone headset, said he agrees that hands-free devices are safer but said laws requiring them are unenforceable.
He added that proving cell phone use during an accident would require a time-consuming and costly subpoenaing of the private phone records of those accused.
Other local police officials also were lukewarm about the idea of such a ban.
In Boardman, Chief Jeff Patterson said there is only anecdotal evidence to support a ban. Youngstown Police Capt. David Williams said he has seen no link between cell phone use and any increase in accidents. He did agree that a headset requirement is a good idea because, "You take your eyes away from the road for five seconds and you're off the road."
Existing laws: Niles Police Capt. Chuck Williams said new laws aren't needed to enforce action against poor drivers. A cell phone user who drives carelessly can be cited for reckless driving, driving left of center, running a red light or other appropriate violations, he added.
Some local legislators said they don't agree with Barrett's suggestion for more regulation.
"At this point, I'm not supporting anything. The car is almost an office for me," said state Rep. Kenneth A. Carano of Austintown, D-65th. "I haven't seen any statistics to say it's such a major problem that now we're going to pull these out."
State Sen. Tim Ryan of Warren, D-32nd, said he has had only one constituent request a cell phone ban. The pre-teen sent an e-mail to say, "I'm scared when my mom's driving the car with her cell phone," Ryan said.
"I think technology is probably going to end up being the answer," Ryan added. "We want to keep people safe but we don't want to be regulating everything."