COLUMBUS— Traffic citation statistics indicate there hasn’t been a big upswing in tickets for Ohio motorists who text while driving.
The Columbus Dispatch reported today that a check of three populous counties didn’t find many citations under the Ohio ban that took effect a year ago. The Ohio State Highway Patrol issued warnings in the first six months the law was in effect. A Patrol spokeswoman says it doesn’t have a tally of citations written since the grace period ended nearly six months ago because the data set would be so small.
The newspaper reported that 10 adults have been cited under the state ban in Franklin County, while Hamilton County has had 18 ticketed. In Cleveland, two tickets for the statewide ban have been written, with many more written under a local ordinance. For adult drivers in Ohio, the state law is a secondary offense, meaning drivers would have to be stopped for another offense.
Columbus, in Franklin County, also has a local ban on texting while driving. In effect since 2010, 140 citations have been issued under the Columbus ban. However, nearly a third of those have been dismissed.
“Unless you have an admission by the person, it can be hard to prove what exactly they were doing with the phone,” said Melanie Tobias, an assistant city prosecutor.
Prosecutors also might agree to dismiss the texting citations to get a plea agreement on a more-serious charge.
Drivers also might be concealing their activity.
“We know it’s dangerous because driver inattention will cause accidents,” said Perry Township police chief Robert Oppenheimer. “It’s just hard to get them at it.”
There’s little doubt that the texting goes on, though. One study estimated that 45 percent of drivers ages 18-24 texted while driving in states that have bans.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says texting bans haven’t made a major difference in reducing crashes in states that have them.
“In effect, drivers may be trying to conceal the fact that they’re texting,” said Institute spokesman Russ Rader.
Some research indicates the bans can lead to even riskier texting behavior in trying to cover up the activity.
“Police officers often note that drivers trying to avoid detection move the phone down below window level, and that actually takers their eyes off the road for a longer period,” Rader said.