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Opinions vary on cell-phone use in the car



Published: Sun, October 25, 2009 @ 12:01 a.m.

By RICK ROUAN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

Brittany Fleischer said she was texting behind the wheel when she nearly rear-ended the car in front of her.

But that near miss hasn’t stopped the 17-year-old Boardman High School student from using her cell phone in the car, and she said a ban on texting while driving would not be enforceable.

“I can pay attention. I look up,” said Fleischer. “I don’t think [police] would catch you. They’d have no idea if you text and look up.”

Fleischer is a part of a generation of drivers that has come of age with access to the Internet, unlimited text messaging plans and global positioning systems all on a cell phone.

Those new young drivers who use portable technology behind the wheel are of particular concern, according to a study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released in July.

“You’ve got 10- and 12-year-olds that have four and five years of experience with these things before they get behind the wheel of a car,” said Larry Kingston, executive director of the Northern Ohio branch of the National Safety Council. Kingston also owns Kingston Driver Training in Boardman.

“Anybody with a near miss should have that ‘a-ha’ moment when they realize” the danger, he said.

Local, state and federal governments have taken notice of the issue.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama banned federal employees from sending text messages while driving on the job. The Ohio General Assembly is considering several proposed bans.

And in Niles, the city council tabled an ordinance last week that would levy fines against drivers caught talking on the phone or texting on the road.

The proposed law in Niles would fine violators $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second and $100 for every violation thereafter, according to the draft ordinance. But Councilman Ed Stredney, D-3rd, said that the city tabled the ordinance to wait for state action.

“My guess is that if there was a statewide ban or law, there would be a lot more awareness for it,” Stredney said.

Niles residents opposed to the ordinance complained at a council meeting earlier this month. The city’s police chief, Bruce Simeone, said it would be difficult to enforce.

Problems with enforcement, Stredney said, played heavily into the decision to put the ordinance on the shelf for now.

“I’m not going to take my time to pass a paper law that can never be enforced,” he said.

The state Legislature is considering bills related to distracted driving.

Two proposed bills in the Ohio Senate would either ban texting while driving or ban using “mobile communication devices” in general. The violations would be secondary offenses that do not place points on the violator’s license.

A proposed House bill does not specify whether texting while driving would be a primary or secondary offense.

All three bills are in the committee stage. The House bill is in the Public Safety and Homeland Security committee, of which state Rep. Tom Letson of Warren, D-64th, is a member.

Letson said that he is unsure whether texting while driving should be a primary or secondary offense, but he said he is convinced a complete ban on cell phones behind the wheel would not work.

“A cell-phone ban won’t work — period — because we are constantly people of divided attention,” Letson said. “We relish the fact that we multi-task.”

Divided attention behind the wheel, studies have suggested, is “detrimental to the health and safety of people around highways,” said Letson.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s study concluded that drivers are more likely to take risks when using “both hand-held and hands-free mobile phones.”

Letson said he is a strong proponent of using hands-free headsets and that he is on his fourth one himself.

Officials at the National Safety Council want a full cell-phone ban, Kingston said.

Using a hands-free headset does not help alleviate the risk of crashing, Kingston said, because drivers are using the part of the brain needed to make quick decisions to have a conversation instead.

But Kingston said that the legislation is “back-burner stuff” right now as lawmakers contend with how to reverse the downturn in the economy.

The teenagers who go to Kingston’s driving school hear about the dangers of texting while driving. But Kingston said the process of texting or making a phone call releases endorphins to the pleasure-center of the brain.

The mantra for Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers is “a distracted driver is a deadly driver,” said Lt. Joe Dragovich, commander of the Southington Post.

Drivers can be distracted by a number of things, and Dragovich said he once pulled a man over and discovered he was reading the newspaper.

“I’ve tried to stop people who are talking on the cell phone, and it’s taken a while for them to realize there’s a cruiser behind them with lights on,” Dragovich said.

Dragovich said that crashes are down for his post, but he could not pinpoint a reason.

In 2008, distracted driving contributed to 407 crashes that resulted in one fatality and 112 injuries in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, according to OSHP statistics. Those account for 4 to 5 percent of distracted-driving accidents statewide.

National studies have said that measuring the number of crashes that result from texting or talking on a cell phone while driving is difficult.

“You don’t really think about it until you almost get into a wreck,” said Troy Rice, 22, of Youngstown. “You just do it because you want to.”

Rice questioned how police could enforce the law but conceded that a ban would “cause a lot of young adults to think twice.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded that cell-phone bans in Washington, D.C., New York and Connecticut have reduced hand-held phone use, but it could not measure an overall phone-use decrease because of the rise of hands-free headsets. The study was released earlier this month.

A survey by Columbus-based Nationwide Insurance on distracted driving concluded that 18 percent of the respondents who said they use a cell phone while driving would not change their behavior if a ban passed.

The cell-phone industry is on board with texting bans but remains neutral on outright bans of cell-phone use in cars, said John Walls, a spokesman for CTIA-The Wireless Association.

“There is no way you can safely operate a vehicle with your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel,” he said.

rrouan@vindy.com


Comments

1dubfun(174 comments)posted 4 years, 5 months ago

Anybody that went through drivers education in school should remember that they were warned about distractive driving. I remember being told that you shouldn't eat, drink coffee, put on make-up, read, smoke (or at least try to light up while you're driving), trim your mustache (yes, I actually was behind a guy that was doing that and weaving all over the road) and any of the other ridiculous things I'm sure we've all seen people doing while driving. And this was long before cell phones were around. These laws aren't being proposed to take away your freedoms, they're being proposed to save me from idiots who have no consideration for other peoples lives. Remember, driving isn't a right, it's a privelege given to you by the state of Ohio. In my opinion, the penalties for using cell phones should be more severe in the event that it causes an accident and injury You might as well be driving drunk. And you can't deny that you were using a cell or texting while driving because call records are easily obtained. There are laws already in place against distracted driving so these proposed laws are nothing new. Just be safe while driving (and, yes, I'm being selfish because I have a family to worry about) because the life you save might be mine!

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2HundredReasons(31 comments)posted 4 years, 5 months ago

Brittany is right. The law will be less enforeable than people think. But, pass it anyway so that lawyers have more to sue the Everyman over.

Given the choice over staying connected to my kids when they are out with friends and the fact that a cell phone gives us instant communication at all times far outweighs those few who have less common sense than experience and make bad choices to text and drive.

Ohio is known for passing stupid laws predicting where lightening is going to strike, so pass another one on texting...

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3Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 5 months ago

If they ban smoking while driving then I would support banning cell phone use while driving . Both cause accidents . Why single out one and give the other one a free ride ?

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4Rokscout(310 comments)posted 4 years, 5 months ago

Just for fun, next time you are out driving, watch some cars around you. When you see someone do something such as: turn in front of another car at an intersection or change lanes without looking or signaling and almost hit somone, try to get a glimpse of what the driver is doing. Since this debate has become main stream, I have been doing this. You will be surprised (or not so surprised) to see how many people are texting or are on their phone and just not paying attention. I hate to see more laws passed (especially when they are hard to enforce), but people have become so self centered and show such a lack of concern for other persons, motorists, etc. It is time that something is done.

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5cannedoscar(1 comment)posted 4 years, 5 months ago

There is no doubt to any reasonable person that using a cellphone while driving endangers everyone in your vehicle & and in every vehicle on the road with you. If & when a ban is passed it won't be enforced and the problem won't be with officers lacking the information to enforce a ban, but on law enforcers willingness to do the work to enforce it.
I counted twenty plus cars driving up Market Street, between Midlothian & 224, with their windsheild wipers running in the rain & their headlights off. All of these cars past the same Boardman Police & the State Highway Patrol vehicles I passed & a not a single one was pulled over & ticketed. Until citizens start filing Dereliction of Duty complaints with the police departments, officers will continue to enforce laws if & when they think they should.

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6fudputer(44 comments)posted 4 years, 5 months ago

lets hope those 18%--hit trees!!!!!!!!!!!! Idiots!!!!!!

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7apollo(1227 comments)posted 4 years, 5 months ago

Rokscout is correct, cell phone usage and texting is a menace on the road. It should be banned. Driving is not a right but a privilege. Probably half or better accidents are the result of distracted or impaired driving. People just are too self centered or stupid to understand the danger.

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8mark(60 comments)posted 4 years, 5 months ago

This is ridiculous. The state and local governments are just trying to take away our rights and everybody is in favor of it. If you honestly believe a law like this should be on the books then you should propose laws that ban eating, smoking, drinking any liquids, reading, and all of the other things mentioned above because they are no different than using any "mobile communications device." Or alternatively, you can pass the guy weaving in his lane and move on with your life. The problem isn't people using their phones while driving, the problem is people who say to the government "take away my rights and punish me for the actions of other people," because that's exactly what you're saying if you support any of these proposed laws.

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9ront(119 comments)posted 4 years, 5 months ago

some of you talk about your rights. sure, you have your rights; but so does everyone else. doesn't everyone have the to drive on public roads with the expectation of not being run over by someone not paying attention?

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