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A weak texting-while-driving law is better than no law at all

Published: Fri, August 31, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

Today is a day that could have signaled real progress toward making Ohio’s roads safer. Unfortunately, the General Assembly could only bring itself to approve a half measure aimed at reducing texting while driving. And, worse, it missed a chance to hold drivers who text and kill responsible for the consequences of their reckless behavior.

The best that can be said for the texting-while-driving law that goes into effect today is that it is better than nothing. That Ohio had to wait to be the 39th state in the union to pass a law — and even then could only come up with one of the weakest renditions — defies logic, common sense and a respect for the public welfare.

The law that was signed by Gov. John Kasich in May and finally takes effect today won’t have even its baby teeth for another six months. Until then, drivers who violate the law will be given nothing more than a warning. Most drivers — even those who might occasionally text and drive themselves — know such behavior is dangerous and wrong. Giving people a six-month grace period to continue their bad habits sends an unhealthy signal that the Legislature doesn’t really think texting and driving is that big a deal. Tell that to the families of other motorists and pedestrians who have already died at the hands of texting drivers.

No shortage of Flaws

But even after six months the law is flawed on several counts. Texting and driving is a secondary offense for any driver over 18, meaning a citation can only be issued if the driver was stopped for another reason, such as speeding. Those under 18 can be cited for a primary offense for texting or using a cellphone, which makes some sense because less experienced drivers are already mistake prone and are more so when distracted. But it doesn’t matter how old the driver is if he or she ignores the road for three or four seconds while reading or responding to a text. A car traveling the length of a football field while the driver texts can kill without regard to the age of who is behind the wheel.

Equally baffling is the Senate’s amending the bill to follow the state’s mandatory seat belt law in making it a secondary offense. The seat-belt infraction is arguably a secondary offense because the person breaking the law is endangering no one but himself or herself. The texting driver is endangering everyone else on or near the road.

When the law is finally and fully in effect, a violation will be minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $150. Let’s hope that’s a deterrent.

Had the Legislature made it mandatory for a prosecutor to charge the driver in a fatal cell-phone accident with felony vehicular homicide, it would have provided a level of punishment similar to that for drunken drivers. Both drivers choose to engage in an unnecessary and dangerous practice. Their victims are equally dead. And they should logically face similar consequences.


1NoBS(2647 comments)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

You say a weak texting-while-driving laws is better than no law. I say it's not. Having this blatant slap on the wrist law on the books sends the message that it's not really all that bad to text and drive. Nobody really gets hurt. It says we're not serious about deterring this dangerous behavior.

Are the cell phone companies (and their lobbyists) really so powerful that they can sell a product known and proven to be THE cause of many wrecks, including fatal wrecks, and our lawmakers are afraid to even pass a law with any real attempt to restrict its use while someone is driving?

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2mgourley(32 comments)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

Cell phone users, are THE cause of wrecks, not the phones themselves.
But I will agree, if we MUST put even more laws on the books, at least make it something that will pose a deterent.

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3ErikWood(11 comments)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

The CDC just reported that 60% of older teens routinely Text and Drive. I think its starting to become clear that legislation has value in raising public awareness in forums like this one but it will be difficult to solely legislate our way out of this issue. I also read that over 3/4 of teens text daily - many text more than 4000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook - even with their professors. Tweens (ages 9 -12) send texts to each other from their bikes. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and its not going away.

I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user, I built a texting asset called OTTER that is a simple and intuitive GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. While driving, OTTER silences those distracting call ringtones and chimes unless a bluetooth is enabled. The texting auto reply allows anyone to schedule a ‘texting blackout period’ in any situation like a meeting or a lecture without feeling disconnected. This software is a social messaging tool for the end user that also empowers this same individual to be a sustainably safer driver.

Erik Wood, owner
do one thing well... be great.

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4NoBS(2647 comments)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

Erik, while I support and applaud your efforts, they don't go far enough. The issue isn't so much what the hands are doing, it's what the brain is doing. Hands-free devices such as bluetooth still allow distracted driving, because it's been proven time and again that we cannot carry on a phone conversation and drive safely. It's a matter of concentration, not whether you're holding a phone.

I would urge you to leave the bluetooth/hands-free-device option out of your OTTER app. Let the phone simply store incoming call/text/other information until it stops moving (for a longer period than a traffic light).

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