The Community Coffee gatherings that Canal Winchester City Council members began holding this year may result in a stricter texting-and-driving law.

The city already has a law enacted in 2010 but "nobody knew this even existed," Councilwoman Jill Amos said.

She and Councilman Will Bennett said residents approached them about texting-and-driving issues during the Community Coffee sessions.

As a result, city Law Director Gene Hollins has been asked to re-examine Canal Winchester's texting-and-driving law to possibly consider stricter language.

The current law says, "No person shall operate a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device to: manually enter letters, numbers or text messages or read any received emails or text messages transmitted to or stored within such device; or send, read, create, or interact with internet-based content, play games or otherwise interact with the internet."

It also lists exemptions:

* Drivers who are parked, standing or stopped or "removed from the flow of traffic" or stopped because their vehicles are inoperable.

* Drivers who are "reading, selecting, or entering a name or telephone number in an electronic wireless communication device for the purpose of making or receiving a telephone call."

Fairfield County sheriff's deputies, who provide police protection for Canal Winchester, are not permitted to pull over a vehicle for the "sole purpose" of determining whether a texting-and-driving violation has been committed.

"We use this section of the ordinance when we have evidence that they were on their phone when they crashed," Sgt. Forrest Cassel told council members.

A state law enacted last October makes it easier for police to ticket drivers for distracted driving, a secondary offense. The new language broadens "distracted" to include any activity that is not necessary for driving, such as eating or adjusting the radio.

The punishment for anyone convicted of a distracted-driving offense under state law is either a $100 fine or attendance at a distracted-driving safety course.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as any activity that directs a person's attention away from driving, either visually, by diverting the eyes; manually, by occupying the hands; or cognitively, by sidetracking a driver's thoughts.

"Obviously, this has become a big problem all over the United States, with texting and cellphone use," Councilman Mike Walker said. He asked if the city might consider posting signs about its existing law.

Bennett inquired about Bexley's law, enacted in 2016, that prohibits drivers from having any wireless communication device in their hands while operating a vehicle. Signs are posted throughout the city, warning drivers and Bexley police can cite any drivers spotted holding a cellphone.

Canal Winchester Mayor Mike Ebert, who said he has "seen people with books on their steering wheel," said the city's law should have contained stronger language when it was enacted in 2010.

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