Ohio House votes to ban texting while driving

By Joe Guillen, The Plain Dealer

March 24, 2010, 7:18PM
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Drivers who fire off text messages behind the wheel might want to break the habit because state lawmakers are pushing to outlaw texting while driving in Ohio.

The House of Representatives, following a nationwide trend, passed a bill 85-12 Wednesday that would ban writing, reading and sending text messages while driving. Those who get caught would be fined up to $150.

Supporters of the legislation described potentially fatal consequences when drivers -- foot planted firmly on the gas pedal -- take their eyes off the road for seconds on end to write and send text messages.

Cell phone facts

 

1.4 million: Crashes per year in the United States caused by drivers talking on their cell phones.

200,000: Crashes per year caused by texting and driving.

812,000:

Vehicles driven at any moment in the United States by someone on a cell phone.

$43 billion: Annual cost of crashes in the United States caused by cell phone use.

276.6 million: Wireless subscribers in the United States as of June 2009.

2.23 trillion: Minutes of cell phone use in the United States per year.

1.36 trillion: Text messages sent per year in the United States.

SOURCES: National Safety Council; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Harvard Center for Risk Analysis;

CTIA-The Wireless Association


"What we ultimately have here is a bill that will save lives," said Rep. Nancy Garland, a Gahanna Democrat and one of the bill's    co-sponsors.

The state Senate still has to approve a texting ban before it becomes law. Sen. Shirley Smith, a Cleveland Democrat, introduced her own bill to ban texting while driving last fall, but it has not been up for a vote yet. Senate President Bill Harris, a Republican from Ashland, is concerned about the dangers to public safety, but he has not thrown his support behind any specific proposal yet, said spokeswoman Maggie Ostrowski.

If the ban becomes law, Ohio would join 20 other states that have outlawed the practice.

The city of Cleveland also has instituted a ban, but cops haven't written a lot of tickets so far: 31 since the ban took effect in July, according to a police spokesman.

The House bill passed Wednesday would allow police officers to pull a driver over for texting alone because it would be classified as a primary offense.

But violators would get off with a warning in the first six months so drivers could adjust to the new law.

The grace period also would help drivers and authorities get familiar with exceptions written into the proposal, including attempting to contact authorities in an emergency, reading a navigation device, and dialing a number or selecting the name of a contact on a cell phone.

Opponents of the bill agreed texting is a distraction to drivers. But so is applying makeup, talking on the cell phone, shaving and other tasks people attempt to manage behind the wheel.

"We don't need a law that highlights only one thing and suggests it is the only thing that's truly distracting," said Rep. Barbara Sears, a Republican from Sylvania.