Grace period ends, drivers now subject to tickets for texting

Motorists — especially those under 18 — who haven’t weaned themselves away from texting and driving over the last six months could be in for a shock.

The grace period for the anti-texting bill passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. John Kasich last summer expires at midnight Thursday.

The bill was watered down as it applied to adults. A motorist over 18 can be ticketed for texting while driving only as a secondary offense, meaning the traffic stop must have been initiated for another violation. And the law also includes a bewildering list of exceptions that will make enforcement more difficult.

New drivers beware

But for novice drivers the law has some teeth. It makes texting — or even talking or otherwise using any electronic wireless communications device — a primary offense for any driver under 18. That provision was pushed by one of the House bill sponsors, Rep. Rex Damschroder, R.-Fremont, after a newly licensed 16-year-old girl in his district crossed the center line while texting and killed a motorcyclist riding the other way. Would that other members of the General Assembly had recognized that while younger drivers are more prone to error due to distractions, texting and driving kills innocent people without regard to age.

At 60 mph, a car can travel the length of a football field in the time it takes to read a text, whether the driver is 17 or 70. And the pedestrian or driver of another car or motorcycle that gets in that car’s way is equally dead, regardless of the texter’s age.

Too little too late

That it took Ohio so long to pass an anti-texting bill — 38 other states beat it to the punch — and that even then the law was seriously flawed, is something legislators will have to live with. Even if some Ohioans won’t get to live because of it.

Nonetheless, now that the law is fully in effect motorists young and old should be aware that texting and driving could cost them $150 a pop. And younger drivers face a license suspension of 60 days for the first offense, a year for a second offense. If police are vigilant in enforcing the law, the word will spread quickly that texting and driving isn’t worth the expense. And lives will be saved.

More lives would be saved if texting were a primary offense, meaning that a police officer could pull over any motorist observed texting and write them up.

It makes some sense for a seat-belt infraction to be a secondary offense because the person breaking the law is endangering no one but himself or herself. The texting driver, on the other hand, is endangering everyone else on or near the road.

And we continue to believe that the most serious flaw in the law was the failure of the Legislature to legally define texting as reckless behavior when a crash results in the loss of life.

As it stands, most drivers who text and kill are being prosecuted as negligent motorists, which means they face at most a misdemeanor conviction. As we’ve said before, it is not an accident when a driver makes a conscious decision to pay attention to something other than the road and that decision leads to another person’s death.

A driver who chooses to drink and drive faces a felony vehicular homicide charge when someone dies as a result of that reckless behavior. Likewise, someone who kills while texting and driving should face a felony — not a misdemeanor — count.

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