Local law enforcement officials are hoping a new law banning texting while driving will enforce itself for the most part as it takes effect today.
The new law bans all adults 18 years of age or older from sending or reading text-based messages from behind the wheel of a car.
The offense is a secondary offense, which means law enforcement cannot make a stop based on viewing someone texting messages. The offense is a minor misdemeanor.
However, the law puts tighter restrictions on minors. The new law bans people under the age of 18 from using any kind of mobile communications device while driving, including texting, e-mail, cell phone calls, video games, iPad/tablet or handheld GPS use.
For minors the law will be a primary offense, meaning officers can stop them if they view them using communication devices.
On a first offense, there is a $150 fine and six-month license suspension. A second violation is a $300 fine and a one-year driver’s license suspension. Exceptions include pre-programmed GPS use and emergency phone calls.
Sgt. Kristina Bennett, of the Wapakoneta Post of the Ohio Highway Patrol, said the public will be given warnings for the first six months that the law is in effect and no tickets will be handed out.
“It will be an educational experience,” Bennett said. “The first six months we will issue warnings. We are hoping the law will enforce itself and we are hoping it will raise awareness. It is such a dangerous thing to do.”
Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock said officers support the new law.
“We think it will greatly reduce the amount of crashes and the number of injuries that result from those crashes,” Hunlock said. “Obviously, when you are paying attention to some communications device it is taking attention away from where it should be, paying attention to the wheel. We are hoping the public realizes it is now in effect and will abide by it.”
Studies have shown that taking your eyes off the road for five seconds to send a text at 55 mph compares to driving about 100 yards, or the length of a football field, with your eyes closed. In a recent poll approximately 50 percent of teens admitted to texting while driving and 40 percent admitted to being in a car when the motorist used a cell phone in a way that put the passengers in danger. More research determined that you are 23 times more likely to crash while texting and driving.
St. Marys Police Chief Greg Foxhoven echoes Hunlock’s thoughts.
“Our officers will watch for the violations,” Foxhoven said. “Obviously we all see them every day — you seem young people driving — and I don’t want to pick on them — but they are driving, they are texting and taking their eyes off the road. Our officers will keep an eye out of that and they’ll take the appropriate actions.”
The only gray area of the law is determining the age of someone driving and using a communications device if they look to possibly be a minor.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon said it will be hard to determine in some cases, but people should focus more on the purpose of the new law.
“We are hoping the law makes people understand they need to pay attention,” Solomon said. “It is just like most other laws. The focus is on safety. We want people to be safe.”
Bennett said stops made when someone is thought to be a minor and they turn out to be 18 or older likely would not be enforceable.
“Our hope is everyone will take heed to the new law,” Bennett said. “No text is worth your life. Wait until you get somewhere. This will improve traffic safety.”
Gov. John Kasich signed the law, House Bill 99, into law June 1.