By Marc Kovac
More than 270 people were cited during the past 12 months for texting or operating other communications devices while driving, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
The total included 230 adults caught texting while breaking other traffic laws and 43 teens using cellphones and other electronics while behind the wheel.
The statistics, released by the patrol after a public-records request, track the first 12 months of enforcement of the state’s texting ban.
The law prohibits teens (drivers younger than 18) from using any type of handheld electronic wireless communications device while driving. Those caught doing so face fines, plus a 60-day license suspension for a first offense and one-year suspension for subsequent offenses.
Adult drivers also are prohibited from texting while driving, though there are increased exemptions for using handheld communications devices. The infraction is considered a secondary offense, meaning officers can’t pull drivers over unless they are caught breaking other traffic laws.
Two adults and eight teens were cited for texting while driving in Mahoning County over the past 12 months, as were four adults in Trumbull County, five adults and one teen in Stark County and three adults in Columbiana County, according to the patrol.
The numbers represent only drivers cited for breaking the texting law and do not account for final convictions. They also cover enforcement activities on state highways, interstates and other areas covered by the patrol.
Sgt. Vincent Shirey, a spokesman for the OSHP, said it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from the violation results. He added in an emailed statement: “The highway patrol is working diligently to educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving. Distracted driving isn’t anything new, OSP will continue in our efforts to promote awareness on the dangers of driving distracted, in particular using a handheld electronic devise.”
State Rep. Rex Damschroder of Fremont, R-88th, sponsor of the original legislation, said Ohio’s texting law is more difficult to enforce because lawmakers amended the language to make texting a secondary offense for adults.
“It is illegal to text while driving in the state of Ohio, but for adults, they can’t pull them over if they see them texting,” said Damschroder, who also heads the Ohio House’s transportation committee. He added, “I want texting while driving to be a primary offense.”
Since January 2013, a total of 371 crashes involved individuals who were texting or sending other electronic messages while driving. Of those, six resulted in fatalities. Another 128 caused injuries and 227 caused property damage.
“There’s no safe way you can text and drive,” Damschroder said. “You just can’t take your eyes off the highway and look down for several seconds. A lot of people think they can until they have an accident. There’s just no safe way to drive your car without having your eyes on the road.”