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State texting-and-driving ban begins Friday

By Robert Vitale via Dispatch.com

A statewide texting-while-driving ban takes effect on Friday, and it’s among the strictest in the nation for young people, while a little more lenient for adults.

If you’re 18 or older, it will be illegal — and the fine will be $150 — to write, send or read text messages from behind the wheel.

If you’re 17 or younger, whether your license is temporary or permanent, it will be illegal to use any hand-held electronic device for any reason. That means no texting, no emailing, no calling, no talking, no surfing, no looking up directions on a GPS and no changing songs on an iPod.

“Pretty much anything you can think of, you can’t do it while driving,” State Highway Patrol Lt. Anne Ralston said of the new rules for teen drivers. Yesterday, Ralston and other officials spoke to Westerville South High School students about the new law.

For drivers 17 or younger, the fine is also $150, but violations also result in a 60-day license suspension.

For those young drivers, the new law classifies a violation as a primary offense, meaning that law-enforcement officers can stop them solely on suspicion of being in violation. Officers can stop and ticket adult drivers only if they’re also committing a primary offense, such as speeding.

Ohio is the 39th state to enact a texting ban for all drivers and the 17th to ban all uses of electronic devices among its youngest drivers. Gov. John Kasich signed the bans into law in June. Officers will issue warnings to violators for six months.

A Columbus ban that took effect in May 2010 remains in place. The new state law is stricter for young drivers, but police can stop adult drivers solely for texting under Columbus’ ordinance. Ohio Department of Public Safety spokesman Geoff Dutton said local police will be able to ticket offenders under either law.

Officers, however, say it’s not an easy law to enforce.

“You have to be able to see what’s happening inside the car,” said Columbus Police Lt. Brent Mull, head of the division’s traffic unit. “That’s a difficult task.”

Columbus police wrote 88 texting-while-driving tickets during the first two years of the city’s ban.

Sharon Montgomery, a Gahanna resident whose husband was killed in a 2000 crash blamed on another driver’s use of a cellphone, said she thinks many people will set their phones aside because it’s the law. But she said she fears they might be tempted to pick up those phones again if they see a law rarely enforced.

“Enforcement has to be visible and consistent,” Montgomery said.

Sam Olanrewaju, 16, a junior at Westerville South High, said constant reminders from his parents and public-service announcements on TV have persuaded him not to text while he’s driving. He said he hopes the law persuades those who still do.

Virginia Tech researchers have found that drivers who are texting look away from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds while reading or sending a message. At 55 mph, that’s how long it takes to travel the length of a football field.

The State Highway Patrol said 31,000 crashes in Ohio and 74 deaths over the past three years have been blamed on distracted drivers.
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