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Upper Arlington

Stricter texting ban takes effect in 30 days

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Upper Arlington City Council voted 5-2 on Oct. 8 to make texting while driving a primary offense, meaning that officers may cite drivers they see sending or receiving messages.

That makes the city's new law -- which goes into effect in 30 days -- more stringent than the state law on texting.

State law already bans texting, but it is only a primary offense for those younger than 18. Others must have committed another offense.

The UA ban is similar to those in Columbus and Dublin. Columbus police write about one ticket per week, and Dublin police fewer than one per month.

Two council members argued that the ban was intrusive and overly broad.

"It seems like too much of an invasion of privacy," council President Frank Ciotola said. "I don't think I'm comfortable with people having to surrender their phone."

City Attorney Jeanine Hummer said in many traffic offenses, "there's no other evidence, no video, no radar. That is not unusual."

She also argued that police won't have to guess a driver's age in deciding who to stop.

"This is easier for the police because they don't have to worry about the age issue," Hummer said.

Council members did agree with Councilman Erik Yasenoff's motion to remove a "distracted driver" provision from the ordinance.

"You would not be allowed to do almost anything in the seat of your car, including drinking a cup of coffee," he argued.

Kelton Aschinger, 17, has been driving for two years and thinks tough laws are helpful.

"You really can't gauge yourself as a driver," he said of new drivers.

His iPhone allows him to listen to text messages rather than look at them, he said.

"If you have the capability of talking to your GPS or phone, then you're not taking your eyes off the road," Aschinger said.

"There's a fine line between being really deep into a text and being cautious of where you are," he added.

Police have had concerns about enforcement, according to UA Police Chief Brian Quinn.

"I see it," he said of texting while driving. "But one of the challenges is, are they texting or punching in a phone number?"

Sharon Montgomery, a Gahanna resident whose husband was killed 12 years ago because another motorist was using a cellphone, doesn't worry about enforcement.

"It's a matter of, 'I saw you drifting out of your lane and looking down so I pulled you over, ' as opposed to, 'I saw you fail to stop for the stop sign so I pulled you over and I also saw you looking down,'" she told the council at a recent meeting.

Still, police are pleased at the additional tools to make an arrest.

"Any time your attention is not straight forward, it's a big issue," Upper Arlington officer Lee Morrison said. "I think it will help the most by making people more aware.

"We may not be charging people, but it will be in their head a little more."

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