Patrol cites 7 in Portage for texting, driving

by MARC KOVAC RPR CAPITAL BUREAU Published:

More than 270 people were cited in the past year for texting or operating other communications devices while driving, reports the Ohio Highway Patrol.

The total included 230 adults caught texting while breaking other traffic laws and 43 teens using cell phones and other electronics while behind the wheel.

Five adults and two teens in Portage County were cited for texting while driving over the past 12 months, according to the patrol.

The statistics, released by the patrol after a public records request, track the first 12 months of enforcement of the 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 thereafter.

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.

The figures represent drivers cited for breaking the texting law and do not include convictions. They also cover enforcement on state highways, interstates and other areas covered by the patrol.

SGT. VINCENT Shirey of the Ohio Highway Patrol, said it's difficult to draw too many conclusions from the violation results, since a full calendar year of enforcement has not yet been completed.

He added in an email, "The highway patrol is working diligently to educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving. The OHP will continue in our efforts to promote this awareness, in particular using a hand held electronic devise."

Rep. Rex Damschroder (R-Fremont), 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 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, 371 crashes involved individuals who were texting or sending other electronic messages while driving. Of those, six resulted in fatalities, 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."

Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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