Canal Winchester will join only a few Ohio communities that have imposed bans on cellphone use while driving.
The ordinance, which passed at City Council’s meeting Nov. 18, makes the violation a primary offense within city limits. That means law-enforcement officers can pull over a driver and issue a citation just for using a cellphone while driving.
The ordinance states that “no person shall operate a motor vehicle on any street, highway, or property used by the public for purposes of vehicular traffic or parking while using in any manner an electronic wireless communications device.”
Drivers found to be in violation of the law, which takes effect April 1, 2020, will be charged with a minor misdemeanor.
Those exempt from the law include city employees, who may be responding to an emergency and drivers using “a handheld electronic wireless communications device in conjunction with a voice-operated or hands-free device feature or function on the vehicle.”
“The common-sense part of this ordinance is going to be left to the enforcement end of it,” council President Bruce Jarvis said. “And our local law enforcement … has stated it would be just for the most flagrant violators of this before they would ever do a citation.”
Jarvis and council members Jill Amos, Will Bennett, Mike Coolman and Patrick Lynch supported the ban.
Councilman Bob Clark voted no. Council Vice President Mike Walker did not attend the meeting because of a death in the family.
“I understand we have a problem with distracted driving, and the intent of the law is good,” Clark said. “I just don’t think this level of government is the appropriate place for this type of law.”
A state law enacted in 2018 makes it easier for police to ticket drivers for distracted driving, a secondary offense. The new language broadened "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 a $100 fine or attendance at a distracted-driving safety course.
However, earlier this year, Gov. Mike DeWine called for tougher action to discourage distracted driving, including making holding a mobile electronic device while driving a primary offense.
Under current state law, texting while driving is illegal but only a primary offense for drivers younger than 18.
According to the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force, in 2017, Ohio recorded about 14,000 distracted-driving crashes in which 58 people were killed and more than 7,000 injured. But the actual number of crashes, injuries and deaths likely is higher, according to the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force.
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.
“I would encourage the state legislature and governor to pass something like this, that way the whole entire state would know,” Clark said.
Canal Winchester’s law mirrors the one Bexley enacted in 2017.
Since then, Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler told Canal Winchester council members that police have issued more than 200 warnings and 82 citations.
Ahead of the ordinance taking effect, Canal Winchester plans to educate the community through newsletters and erect signs at entry points to the city.