Upper Arlington News

Texting while driving

Law director recommends tougher city stance


Upper Arlington's law director said this week she supports establishing a local law to allow police to pull over drivers who are observed texting while behind the wheel.

Ohio's statewide law banning texting while driving went into effect Aug. 31, but Upper Arlington City Attorney Jeanine Amid Hummer and several city council members don't think it goes far enough.

At issue is whether law enforcement officials should be permitted to pull over drivers they see - or believe they've seen - texting while driving.

Ohio's new law made texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning officers can only ticket a driver for texting if that driver has been stopped for committing a primary offense, such as speeding or driving left of center.

Hummer and Upper Arlington City Council members John Adams, David DeCapua and Mike Schadek all favor establishing a city ordinance giving local officers the ability to pull over and ticket any driver they see texting while driving.

"I'd personally like to see this as a primary offense. Put some teeth in it and show some leadership," Schadek said. "We need to do what's best for Upper Arlington ... Is it going to be difficult to enforce? Possibly. But does it send a clear message to folks, 'Don't text and drive'? I think it does."

Hummer agreed and said she would draft legislation making texting while driving in the city a primary offense for council to consider at its Sept. 24 meeting.

Currently, state law provides that if a person age 18 or older is found to be texting while driving following a stop for another offense, they can be cited and fined $150.

Those age 17 or younger are prohibited from any use of a hand-held electronic device for any reason while driving. That includes texting, emailing, calling, talking, web-surfing, looking up directions on a global-positioning device or handling an iPod or other MP3 device.

Drivers 17 or younger who violate the law are fined $150 and could have their licenses suspended for 60 days.

Hummer said the local law would give Upper Arlington police another tool at their disposal to respond to a fatal or other serious accident caused by a texting motorist.

"I want you not to think of the day-to-day operations, but the one major event," Hummer said. "My recommendation is you go ahead and make it a primary because I do believe it's easier for police to have that tool if they need it."

Some council members said it would be hard to prove someone was texting while driving, as opposed to engaging in legal uses of mobile telephones.

"I just have a difficult time having a stricter penalty for something based on the (Ohio Revised Code) that's almost impossible to enforce," council President Frank Ciotola said. "Even if you're right next to them, they're going to say they were dialing a phone number."