Statewide texting ban grace period expires, but how enforceable is the law?

CINCINNATI - Don't text and drive because now authorities can write offenders a $150 citation for violating the Ohio law.

Enforcing the law, however, isn't as clear-cut. The issue with enforcement lies in its subjectivity, as officers have to make a determination, particularly for teen drivers, if they are indeed using a mobile device. The state law also contains a lengthy list of exemptions, potentially making enforcement more problematic.

The state law, signed by Gov. John Kasich last August, goes into full effect after a six-month grace period. It largely focuses on teen drivers 18 years old or younger. It prohibits the use of an electronic wireless communications device while driving and prohibits texting while driving, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

It's a primary offense for teens, meaning authorities can stop a teen driver for exclusively using a mobile device, resulting in the ticket and a suspended license for 60 days. For second and subsequent violations, the fine is doubled and a teen driver could potentially lose their license for one year, according to ODPS.

"When you're texting, it's going to cause you to commit some kind of violation, that's going to be the probable cause," said Lt. Mike Sanders, of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Hamilton County post. "It's somewhat a difficult law to enforce. You may or may not be able to see if someone is texting."

The texting ban is geared to target the larger issue of inattentive driving, which Sanders said is the cause for a large number of crashes. Troopers will be on the lookout for those violating the law, but it won't be the end-all, be-all of enforcing distracted driving.

Sanders said troopers haven't received specific training on the law other than to familiarize themselves with its provisions.

"A driver's failure to pay attention, that's what causes crashes," Sanders said. "Yes, speed is dangerous and it magnifies the outcome. Speed can be the factor, but more times than not, what causes a crash is the failure of a driver to pay attention."

The exemptions include pre-programmed GPS, vehicles parked outside a lane of travel and emergency calls to law enforcement, according to ODPS. For adults, texting and driving is a secondary violation, meaning they must first commit another violation before authorities can issue a ticket for texting and driving.

But in 2010, the city of Cincinnati banned texting and driving for all drivers. The city ordinance also forbids sending information over the Internet. In cases of teen drivers using a cellphone within the city, police officers will use the state law for enforcement, said Lt. Bruce Hoffbauer, the traffic unit commander. For adult drivers, the city will use the city ordinance because it's a primary offense for adult drivers, he said.

If an adult driver is caught looking down or fiddling with their phone within the city limits, they could be ticketed $150 under Ohio law. The city ordinance does not bar drivers from talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel.

"Like any other new law and ordinance, sometimes it takes a while for the motoring public to adjust," Hoffbauer said. "We want the public to know that distracted driving is dangerous, and [texting] is just one more thing that takes away from driving."


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