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Published: Tuesday, 10/6/2009

Bill to ban texting while driving sent for changes

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A proposed ban on texting in Toledo will get tweaked slightly before it goes back before City Council for possible approval.

Council's law and criminal justice committee reviewed the proposed law Monday and ordered Law Director Adam Loukx to consider several changes.

"I think the penalty section needs to be changed and that it should go from a minor misdemeanor to a staircase of penalties starting with a third-degree misdemeanor for a first offense up to a first-degree misdemeanor for a third offense," Councilman D. Michael Collins said.

Mr. Collins opened yesterday's committee hearing with a controversial texting-while-driving public service announcement that was produced in England.

The clip has been criticized as potentially too graphic, with blood and screaming after a texting teenage girl is involved in a multiple-vehicle accident.

Mr. Collins said he thought it was important to start the meeting with the video.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner on Aug. 21 announced the proposed law and urged council to approve the measure.

Sharon Montgomery of Gahanna, Ohio, who drove 2 1/2 hours yesterday to the meeting, commended council for considering the legislation. Her husband died and she suffered life-threatening injuries in a car crash nine years ago involving a driver using a cell phone.

Mrs. Montgomery asked council to strengthen the law and consider the complete banning of cell-phone use while driving.

"I fully understand and grudgingly accept the strategy of focusing on texting first because there is such widespread support for restricting it and it is even more distracting than phone conversations because the driver is not looking at the road for longer times," Mrs. Montgomery said.

She said passing an anti-texting law doesn't take away personal freedom because using a cell phone while driving infringes on someone else's rights.

Under the proposal as it is now, texting in Toledo while driving would be a primary offense, meaning a police officer could stop a motorist who is seen sending or reading text messages.

Toledo Police Deputy Chief Don Kenney said officers could pull over motorists if they happen to see them texting, but he would not assign officers to specifically find people engaged in that activity.

Councilman Tom Waniewski said yesterday he was "leaning against" the ban.

Neither Mr. Loukx nor Chief Kenney yesterday could tell him how many citations were issued in Toledo for reckless driving and for failure to control.

"I would like to see some facts instead of everyone getting upset over nothing," Mr. Waniewski said.

In Ohio, a half-dozen bills were introduced this summer. Some have proposed a ban on texting while driving and others have called for a ban on hand-held cell-phone use for young drivers.

An attempt to ban hand-held cell phones in Bowling Green failed in May.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have banned text messaging while driving. Six states prohibit talking on hand-held cell phones while driving.

A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute recently concluded that texting increases by 23 times the risk of a collision or close call for truck drivers.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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