Keith Homstad, Sr., front left, holding a picture of his son Keith, Jr., dots the i of the texting bill signed into law by Gov. John Kasich at the Ohio Statehouse on June 1. Mr. Homstad said his son was killed in a crash involving a distracted driver.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Enlarge
Keep your hands on the wheel, or anywhere else except your mobile device.
Starting Friday, Ohio motorists caught texting while driving were subject to fines, while drivers under 18 potentially faced license suspensions.
A six-month grace period during which drivers were issued warnings ended, making texting behind the wheel a minor misdemeanor — although for adults it is only a secondary offense, similar to Ohio’s seat belt law.
“Texting is a secondary violation for anyone over 18, and for juveniles, it is a primary violation,” said Lt. John Altman, an Ohio Highway Patrol spokesman.
“Secondary means it’s a violation you can take enforcement on once you have a vehicle stopped for another offense. Any distracted driving — texting, talking on the phone, changing the radio — is going to impair a driver’s ability to control the vehicle.”
While adults have to have done something else wrong behind the wheel to be ticketed for texting, drivers under 18 can be pulled over simply for talking on a cell phone.
Toledo was among several Ohio municipalities to forbid texting while driving before the state’s law was enacted, but Toledo Police Sgt. Joe Heffernan said only a handful of citations had been issued since Toledo’s law took effect in 2010.
He said he doubted any such tickets had been issued Friday, when the state law took force, and noted that Toledo’s ordinance makes texting while driving a primary offense for anyone.
“This is nothing new for us,” he said. “We’ve had this for three years now.”
The low number of citations is not from lack of enforcement, the sergeant said, but because it is difficult for officers to determine if drivers are texting behind the wheel. In a rear-end accident situation, for instance, it is easier for police to cite someone just for not maintaining the proper distance between vehicles.
“That, he [the officer] can prove,” Sergeant Heffernan said. “It’s a little harder to prove if you were texting.”
Other communities forbidding drivers to send or receive text messages before the state’s law took effect include Wauseon.
Communities with tougher anti-texting laws than the state’s may continue to enforce their own ordinances.
Bowling Green, Ottawa Hills, and Perrysburg police said Friday evening that they had not written any citations for texting.
“We had a patchwork of other citations, but not texting,” Perrysburg Police Sgt. Dean Butler said.
Last year, Ohio became the 38th state to criminalize texting while driving and the first state to take every cell phone, computer, or other wireless device out of teen drivers’ hands.
One exception allows for use of navigational devices, as long as teens don’t use their hands to reprogram them while driving.
Adult violators face a fine of up to $150 for a first offense. For minors, that fine can be augmented by a 60-day license suspension; subsequent offenses by those with provisional or probationary licenses are subject to $300 fines and one-year license suspensions.
Michigan law prohibits drivers from reading, typing, or sending a text message while driving, according to the state’s Office of Highway Safety Planning.
Texting while driving in Michigan is a primary offense, with fines of $100 for first offenses and $200 for subsequent violations.
Blade staff writer Kate Giammarise contributed to this report.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com or 419-724-6171, or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.
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