Ohio's ban on texting while driving goes into effect today

By MARC KOVAC C-N Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- Turn off your smart phones and tell your teen-agers to store theirs in the glove compartment.

As of today, sending text messages while driving is an illegal act and punishable by fines and potential license suspensions.

Gov. John Kasich technically signed the legislation, House Bill 99, into law in June, but it didn't take effect until 90 days later.

Lawmakers also included a six-month grace period, meaning violators will receive warnings until early next year, when citations become an option.

The new law is tougher on minors, who are banned from using any type of handheld electronic wireless communications device, including cell phones, while behind the wheel, with few exceptions. Teens will face a $150 fine and a 60-day license suspension for a first offense and $300 fine and one-year license suspension for subsequent offenses.

Studies cited by the Ohio Department of Public Safety noted that one in three teens admit texting while driving, and 40 percent say they have been in a car while the driver was sending or receiving text messages.

Adult drivers also are prohibited from texting while driving under the new law, though there are increased exemptions for using handheld communications devices.

Also, the infraction is considered a secondary offense, meaning officers could not pull drivers over unless they are caught breaking other traffic laws -- "a vehicle defect, weaving outside of the marked lanes, following too closely, speeding," for example, said Lt. Anne Ralston, spokesman for the State Highway Patrol.

Adults can still talk on cell phones while on the road, however, Ralston said.

"The hope is that people will voluntarily comply with the law," she said, adding later, "We can educate people and hopefully that education will change their mind and they'll start behaving differently. Or, though law enforcement, enforcing now this current law, that that will change driver behavior."

Jay McDonald, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, said Ohio's new texting while driving law is "a good first step," though his group would have preferred a primary offense designation -- one that would have allowed officers to pull people over if caught in the act.

"I could be driving down the road and see you texting while you're driving," McDonald said. "As long as you're not committing some other offense, I can't pull you over for it."

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