Fewer than 300 tickets have been issued for texting while driving since Ohio’s ban started in March 2013, but police say the state law is still worthwhile to keep drivers focused and prevent accidents.
Statewide statistics show the number of accidents that caused injuries, death or property damage where the driver was texting or emailing are close to the total tickets issued. Figures from the Ohio Highway Patrol say there were 371 such accidents since January 2013 through February.
Since last March, 230 tickets were issued to adults and 43 to juveniles under the new law. Montgomery County’s share of that was 12. Warren County had 15, Miami County had seven, Butler had two but the other Miami Valley counties such as Clark and Champaign didn’t show as having issued any tickets, according to the Patrol’s compilation.
Law is difficult to enforce
Dustin Patrick might be Ohio’s best example for just how far a texting-while-driving ticket can go.
In July 2013, headed back from lunch to his job as a toolmaker, Patrick attempted a shortcut through a Brookville neighborhood. Finding himself lost, he pulled out the GPS-equipped smartphone. After making a full stop at a stop sign, he failed to signal when he turned.
The police officer behind him saw the phone at the ready. GPS activity is exempt from the law, but Patrick’s explanation didn’t fly with the officer and the ticket was written. It could have ended there, but Patrick stashed the ticket in the Jeep’s console and out of mind.
Add a misinterpreted warning letter that arrived sometime later, and Patrick found himself picked up by police on a warrant while grocery shoppin and taken to the Montgomery County Jail. His wife bailed him out after six hours.
“I was a fish out of water,” said Patrick, 41, who otherwise has an unremarkable record. “I didn’t fit the mold of the other people there. I understand the law, but my past record of only one ticket in 10 years should have been considered.”
Springfield Police Sgt. Brett Bauer cites the law being difficult to enforce as one reason that city hasn’t issued any citations yet. Texting-while-driving is a secondary offense for adults, but a primary one for juveniles 17 and younger. That means that an adult must be stopped for another violation before they can be cited for texting. A juvenile may be stopped if an officer suspects the teen is texting or emailing on a phone.
The law is worth having on the books, Bauer added. And there is no avoiding the fact that plenty of drivers can be seen doing it. “I see it as much as everyone else does,” Bauer said. “Everyone in the course of their day sees somebody texting while driving.”
Kettering, which rescinded its municipal law on texting when the state law went into effect, issued four citations in 2013 and one this year, said Officer Ron Roberts. “It’s mainly about educating people and curbing their driving habits and trying to reach them,” Roberts said.
But can it be proven that the law is working as intended, educating the driving public, and cutting down on the number of wrecks? It could be too early for the definitive answer.
“Once we have a couple years of data, and see how crashes are declining, we can tell how the awareness and education is paying off,” Sgt. Vincent Shirey of the Patrol said. “The hope is to change driver behavior.”
The law’s usefulness is clear to Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer. He helped rescue a 17-year-old who overturned her SUV on northbound Interstate 75 after hitting a barrier that was all between her and a fatal plunge to the river below.
“She was texting and almost went over the wall,” Plummer said. “She was lucky she didn’t go over the wall and it would have killed her. It was a bizarre crash, she ended up on her top.”
Plummer, in his work vehicle just behind the teen, was first on the scene and activated his lights, helping prevent another wreck. “She wasn’t hurt at all, but said she couldn’t find her phone.”
Patrol records show that in 2013, 16 lost their lives due to distracted driving crashes. Sending or receiving a text message takes a person’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s the equivalent to driving the length of a football field. Shirey cites 2013 as a good year - there were fewer than 1,000 traffic fatalities, an exceptionally safe year. He’d like to continue the trend.
In Brookville, enforcement continues, said Maj. Michael Miller.
“It’s up to each individual officer and they have a lot of latitude to issue a citation or not,” Miller said. “It’s up to each situation. As for effectiveness of the law, we have not issued a lot of citations for it. I still see plenty of people looking at their phones while driving.”
By Steve Bennish - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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