Starting today, people who text and drive can be cited when a new state law prohibiting the offense goes into effect —ending a six month trial period.
Drivers older than 18 have to commit another violation before they can be ticketed for texting, which carries a $150 fine. Drivers who are 18 and younger can be stopped for texting and driving.
Already, billboards placed by AAA of the Miami Valley have started appearing warning drivers the change in the law.
According to Ohio State Police accident reports, from 2009-11, there were 31,231 accidents in the state involving distracted drivers, resulting in 74 deaths and 7,825 injuries. Not all of them were due to texting.
State-wide distracted driving laws are two-tiered. On one level, police will need another reason to stop a driver suspected of texting, such as weaving or speeding.
For drivers younger than 18, texting and using cell phones and other portable electronic devices will be a primary offense. Violations for both adults and teens will be $150. Teens also will lose their license for 60 days. Fines and penalties will be higher for multiple violations.
Ohio is the 39th state to ban text messaging while driving.
The change won’t affect some communities including Englewood and Kettering, where texting and driving has been illegal for some time.
“We’ve had that ordinance for years,” said Englewood police spokesperson Sgt. Mike Lang. “It’s under an ordinance labeled ‘Driver Inattention.’
“It’s not only for texting. It’s for not paying attention, playing with the radio or anything like that.”
Centerville doesn’t have an ordinance specifically banning texting while driving, but does have one demanding attention while driving.
“While driving, you need to drive,” said Centerville officer John Davis. “I don’t think there’s going to be any changes with this (ban). It is a big problem, and needed to be addressed. It brings it to people’s attention.”
Davis wasn’t sure if Centerville’s ordinance would be rewritten to specifically mention texting, but said, “Typically, our local ordinance will follow the state.”
Kettering also had a texting ban in place, but repealed it and substituted the state law in its place, according to officer Ron Roberts.
He noted that while texting is not a primary offense, he hopes it raises awareness of the issue.
“Texting (and driving) takes your mind off driving, it takes your hand off the wheel and your mind off the road,” Roberts said. “Don’t do it.”