Rather than call for a local ban on texting while driving, a Pickerington City Council committee wants to put more pressure on the Ohio Senate to pass a statewide ban.

Rather than call for a local ban on texting while driving, a Pickerington City Council committee wants to put more pressure on the Ohio Senate to pass a statewide ban.

City council's safety committee voted unanimously last week to send a letter to state Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), asking him to support a statewide ban on texting while driving, and urging the senate to pass such legislation.

Since last November, Councilman Jeff Fix has called for Pickerington to outlaw text messaging while driving. However, neither Fix nor any other council member has proposed legislation for a local ban and safety committee members have been reluctant to forward the matter to the full council.

"I feel while we could do it in the city, we're a very small area of the state," safety committee chair Cristie Hammond said. "The impact we would have only would affect a few people. Plus, we're not sure how effectively you can enforce it in individual cities."

Hammond said a letter likely will be drafted soon and all council members will be asked to sign it.

In addition to asking for Schaffer's support on the issue, the letter likely will request that the Ohio Senate pass House Bill 415, which was introduced by state Rep. Nancy Garland (D-New Albany). It seeks to ban texting while driving, with offenders subject to a maximum $150 fine.

It would be a primary offense, meaning law enforcement can stop someone only for texting.

The Ohio House of Representatives passed H.B. 415 on March 9, but so far, the matter hasn't been assigned to a committee in the Senate.

Jim Laipply, a legislative aide for Schaffer, noted there are several proposed bills before the Ohio Senate that address the use of mobile phones and computers while driving. He said Schaffer hasn't determined which, if any, of those measures he would support, but is concerned about distracted drivers.

"Sen. Schaffer certainly agrees that distracted driving in any form is dangerous," Laipply said. "I don't think the senator has had the opportunity to consider the specifics of each bill, but that is certainly something his is going to do during the legislative process."

A number of Ohio communities have wither banned texting while driving or proposed such bans since Bexley became the first Ohio municipality to do so last October. However, Bexley's law makes the action a secondary offense, meaning drivers can only be cited if they are stopped for another traffic violation.

Texting-while-driving bans in Columbus and New Albany will become effective next month. Nationwide, 19 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam prohibit texting while driving, and a federal rule was established in January barring commercial truck and bus drivers from texting while driving.

Violators of the federal law now face up to $2,750 in fines.

In approving the letter to Schaffer and the Ohio Senate, Hammond noted enforcement of a local ban might be further complicated because neighboring Violet Township would not have a similar law.

She also said Pickerington already has a "distracted driving" law, which prohibits drivers from operating motor vehicles or motorcycles without giving full time and attention. The offense is a minor misdemeanor. Penalties for those convicted of violating the law don't carry jail time but can result in fines of up to $150 and 30 hours of community service.

Fix said he support's the safety committee's latest action.

"I understand the argument raised by several council members that a statewide ban will be more effective than each individual municipality creating their own law on the subject," he said. "Ideally, the senate will pass this bill and I fully support the safety committee's plan to send a council-signed letter to our state senator, Tim Schaffer, encouraging him to do anything he can to secure its passage.

"Should the senate fail to take action, I think our council will be compelled to push forward on this issue again at a later date," Fix said. "I'm hopeful the senate will do the right thing and will encourage other municipalities to join us in asking our senators to take action on this bill."

For now, Hammond said, the discussion on a local texting ban is being taken off the safety committee's agenda.

"I'm sure if nothing is done (in the senate) in the fairly near future, it will come up again," she said.

nellis@thisweeknews.com