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Published: Monday, 2/11/2008

Textual deviates

THE worst new hazard to responsible driving, it turns out, is not necessarily the use of hand-held cell phones by motorists. Young drivers are increasingly using their cell phones to text message, which creates an even more dangerous distraction behind the wheel.

This latest peril to public safety is the target of two Ohio lawmakers, who have introduced legislation to slap a hefty fine on those careless enough to text and drive.

We think they're on the right track, even as we recognize that the convenience of cell phones has in many ways made American life simpler and more productive. Families can keep in better touch, and so can members of the business and corporate world.

But for every up side, there's a down side. Already, the extra distraction posed by text messaging via cell phone has led to tragic traffic accidents. One came last July, when five teenage girls died in a crash in upstate New York. Authorities believe the driver was texting at the time.

House Bill 425, introduced in the General Assembly by Democratic Rep. Michael DeBose of Cleveland and Republican Rep. Diana Fessler of New Carlisle, would levy a $250 fine on motorists found to be texting.

But it would be only a secondary offense, meaning that drivers could only be cited if they are stopped for another offense. In view of the obvious danger involved, it would make more sense to make texting while driving a primary offense, increase the fine to at least $500, and add the possibility of jail time.

While laws alone cannot guarantee responsible behavior, technological advances continually provide people with opportunities to misuse public privileges such as driving.

As a result, statutes must at least keep pace and this bipartisan measure needs teeth that are somewhat sharper. If lawmakers have the foresight and backbone to make it tougher, they could save lives on Ohio highways.



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