Ohio ponders ban on texting while driving

Think of all the things you could get with $500: a used car, a shopping spree at American Eagle, dinner for 12 at The Cheesecake Factory, and maybe even a pony. However, if you get pulled over for texting while driving, you could be spending that $500 on a ticket.

 In the very near future, this could be a reality. Two bills are working their way through the Ohio legislature right now about texting while driving. One would make it a primary offense, which means the police can pull someone over even for suspicion of texting while driving. The other bill would make it a secondary offense, which means officials can only add the fine to a primary offense like speeding or running a red light.

Kettering Public Information Officer Mike Burke believes enforcing such a law would be difficult. “How’s an officer going to know if you’re texting or just looking down? If there’s a major accident, we can pull the phone records to prove if you were texting, but an officer isn’t going to do that just to give a traffic ticket,” he said.

According to a Nationwide Insurance survey of American drivers, 51 percent admit to using their cell phones while they drive, so such a law could have an effect on a large number of Ohioans.

While it’s unclear exactly how Ohio’s lawmakers might word the final bill, the proposals provide some clues. As a primary offense, the fines could start at $20, but after five tickets the fines could increase to $100 or more. However, as a secondary offense, fines might be $100 or $250 each initially and could possibly reach $500.

Teens view potential law differently

Senior Joey Bucaro agrees this law could be beneficial because he thinks texting while driving is very dangerous. “Anytime I’ve ever tried to text while I drive, I’ve felt myself lose focus of the road,” he said.

On the other hand, senior Zach Spangler thinks the laws are unnecessary and wouldn’t make a difference. “Teens need to know if they can handle multitasking and doing two things at once. Texting while driving can be dangerous, but it can also be safe, especially at red lights and stop signs,” he said.

But Burke points out that the most essential thing for all drivers is to focus on the road. “Safe driving is paramount. Driving with minimal distractions and having two hands on the wheel is essential at all times to make sure the roads stay safe,” he said.

Young drivers especially need to concentrate on driving safely. “Typically, the drivers who text are between the ages of 16-24,” Burke said. “Unfortunately, those drivers are already inexperienced, so adding on an extra distraction along with all of the other unsafe habits they do, like driving late at night, makes accidents way more likely.”

States and cities enact texting laws

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws that prohibit all drivers from texting behind the wheel, and eight states have exclusively banned young drivers from texting. Throughout the rest of the nation, states are considering adopting texting while driving laws to combat the lack of attention to the road that texting brings. In Utah, the maximum penalty for texting while driving that results in a crash is 15 years in prison.

However, 60 percent of all teens admit to texting while driving even with their states’ driving restrictions, according to AOL News.

Spangler thinks that would be a problem in Ohio, too. “If kids want to text while they drive, they’re going to do it. It’s just like when kids speed even though there are speed limit signs everywhere,” he said.

Some cities are starting to beat the state level to the punch. Cleveland has already banned the practice of texting while driving. Philadelphia, Detroit and Phoenix went a step further, banning any behind-the-wheel cell phone use.

Statistics link cell phones and accidents

However, no one can look past the countless accidents that have happened when cell phones and driving are combined. Each year, 21 percent of teenage fatalities behind the wheel are caused by cell phone usage, according to the Washington Post.

And the problem isn’t limited to the United States. Throughout Europe, texting while driving has become just as deadly of a crisis. Great Britain released a public service announcement that shows the horrors of what a crash caused by texting could look like. The video is graphic, but the PSA is being shown to all high school students in England.

Bucaro feels that if teens continue to use cell phones in the car, there will be more and more deaths each year. “I know people who have been in accidents while using cell phones and they haven’t stopped,” he said. “I don’t want anyone else to die for a stupid thing like answering a text.”

Some of the more appalling crashes that the media has shown illustrate why a law could be considered necessary. In September 2008, a train engineer sent a text a matter of seconds before a crash that ended up killing 25 people. In April, a bus driver was caught on film texting while he crashes into an SUV in front of him.

But, it is yet to be determined whether Ohio will actually enact such a law. “It remains to be seen which way they’re leaning about passing the bills. There’s a definite chance one of them will pass but there’s also a definite chance neither one will,” Burke said.

Still, the Kettering Police Department wants to stress that driving safely is key to staying alive and well. Kettering police wanted to send a message to all the Firebird drivers. “Make sure you drive well and drive safe.”

Burke hopes teens hear this message. “The only thing we want is for you to be safe on the road,” he said. “I hope this message hits home, and that we can save a couple of lives.”