COLUMBUS — Keep those thumbs on the steering wheel.
A bill that would outlaw texting behind the wheel for all drivers, as well as the use of almost any other wireless electronic communications device for young drivers, is headed to Gov. John Kasich's desk.
"He will sign it," Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said.
The House voted 82-12 Tuesday across party lines to make Ohio the 38th state to criminalize texting while driving and the first state to take every cell phone, computer, or other wireless device out of the hands of teen drivers.
Exceptions for adult drivers
- Emergency contacts and law enforcement, public safety, and medical officials
- Public-safety vehicle drivers who use such devices as part of their duties
- Use while vehicle is in a stationary position outside the lane of travel
- Use for the purpose making a phone call
- Use for vehicle-operation purposes or receiving safety, emergency, traffic, and weather alerts
- Use of handheld device in conjunction with voice-operated or hands-free device feature of the vehicle
The new law would take effect 90 days after Mr. Kasich signs it. That would then trigger a six-month grace period during which police officers could only issue warnings.
The bill creates two thresholds of punishment and prosecution, depending on whether the driver is under 18.
It would be a secondary offense for an adult to use an electronic device to "write, and or read a text-based communication" while driving, meaning a police officer would need another reason, such as crossing the center line, to pull the driver over. The minor misdemeanor would carry a fine of $150.
But a teen driver could be pulled over just for operating a cell phone, portable computer, or nearly any other wireless device while in a lane of traffic. One exception would be the use of navigational devices, as long as the teen doesn't use his hands to reprogram the device while driving.
The first offense for a teen would carry a $150 fine and 60-day license suspension while repeat violations would lead to $300 fines and a one-year suspension.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont), told his colleagues about two incidents a year apart in his district as he responded to some critics who have claimed the law is just the latest government infringement on personal freedom.
Last year, a 16-year-old girl killed a motorcyclist approaching in the opposite direction when she crossed the center line while texting. Just recently, another girl died when the vehicle she was driving rammed into the back of a truck while she was talking to her mother on her cell phone.
"One took away her own personal freedom," Mr. Damschroder said. "Another took away somebody else's personal freedom."
No one spoke against the bill on the floor. The sole negative vote from northwest Ohio came from Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon).
"The same reason that I've always voted against the seat-belt bill and bills like that," Mr. Wachtmann said later. "I think it's a matter where we've got to be personally responsible for our actions, and parents have to be good parents. It is very dangerous, and people shouldn't do it, young drivers particularly, but it's one of those basic freedom issues for me."
Both Mr. Damschroder and his co-sponsor on the bill, Rep. Nancy Garland (R., New Albany), said they would have preferred to keep an adult violation as a primary offense, but they were eager to get the bill to Mr. Kasich's desk.
"This means [adults] can't get stopped for texting and driving, but you can get stopped for speeding and then get picked up for texting while speeding," Ms. Garland said. "Even though I did not support this provision, I feel this bill is a step forward in reducing texting while driving, and that means saving lives."
The bill would not write over stricter ordinances enacted in local communities. For instance, the texting ban in Toledo is a primary offense carrying a fine of $1,000 plus six months in jail.
Making the act of texting while driving by adults a secondary offense puts the crime on the same level as Ohio's mandatory seat-belt law.
"Some people say it might be hard to enforce, but 85 percent of Ohioans are now wearing safety belts," Mr. Damschroder said.
The Senate added a list of 10 exemptions for adults, including simply using a cell phone to make a call.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.
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