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Published: Friday, 11/18/2011

Ban on texting while driving mulled

BY JIM SIEGEL
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS -- A Senate committee heard three hours of testimony Wednesday, some of it intense and emotional, from law enforcement, nonprofit groups, and citizens asking that Ohio become the next state to ban texting while driving.

But some Senate Republicans, including President Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond), are not convinced the bill is necessary.

"I personally feel that you cannot legislate common sense," Mr. Niehaus said. "I don't text while I drive. I don't think you should text while you drive. I have concerns about the enforceability of it."

Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), a member of the Senate Highway and Transportation Committee that is hearing the bill, also questioned the need and wondered why there was no 10-digit exemption so people making phone calls were not improperly ticketed for texting.

"I think this is all covered by the existing reckless-driving statute," he said. "I don't believe in enacting redundant laws."

Brian Newbacher, representing AAA, responded that his group is concerned about the explosion of the activity. "In our view, it deserves a law of its own, as 35 other states have done."

House Bill 99 passed the House 88-10 in late June but has run into stiffer opposition in the GOP-dominated Senate.

A variety of supporters tried to make their best case yesterday, some describing how loved ones were killed in traffic accidents involving a driver who was texting.

A group of seventh-grade students from Ferguson Middle School in Beavercreek talked about how their after-school club worked to create a policy against texting while driving within the city.

Shortly after selecting the topic, they said, a student at the high school suffered severe brain injuries in a car accident after he was distracted by his cellphone.

John Gordon of Marion County described how his son, a father of two, was killed in 2008 when a truck swerved in front of his motorcycle.

The 20-year-old driver of the truck, Mr. Gordon learned, was disciplined at his job for texting, and Mr. Gordon wanted the State Highway Patrol to investigate.

"I was told that this would not be investigated as there would be no violation of the law if he were texting while driving," Mr. Gordon said.

So Mr. Gordon said he went to the city law director and a subpoena was issued for the driver's cellphone records.

"It showed he was texting at the time of the crash," he said. "Even with this information, nothing could be done about it because Ohio has no law prohibiting this action."

As for the argument that the bill is redundant, Mr. Gordon compared it to passing a domestic-violence law, even though assault was already illegal.



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