By Sue Botos
Drivers tempted to text or talk on their cellphone while driving through Rocky River may soon have to keep both thumbs on the steering wheel instead of the keypad.
At its recent committee-of-the-whole meeting, City Council further discussed legislation that would amend a codified ordinance defining a driver’s control of a motor vehicle by prohibiting the use of hand-held wireless devices while behind the wheel. Ordinance sponsor and Ward 1 Councilman Tom Hunt said the local measure differs from a similar bill signed in June by Gov. John Kasich, because it will be a primary offense in the city and penalizes not only texting, but talking on a cellphone not set up for hands-free use.
Hunt added that the measure also differs from the state law by leveling the same fine on all drivers regardless of age. “The state law is more restrictive on teens (younger than 18) because they are more apt to use the devices while driving,” said Hunt.
Law Director Andrew Bemer explained that the proposed local ordinance is similar to one recently approved by Beachwood City Council, which makes using a hand-held electronic device while driving a primary offense, meaning a police officer can stop an observed violator.
The state measure calls texting a secondary offense, for which an officer can only cite a driver after he or she has been pulled over for another reason. It is a primary offense for those under 18, and carries a fine of $150 and a 60-day license suspension. Ohio has become the 39th state to ban texting while driving. Some wireless providers even offer apps that shut off phones while the user is driving.
While other cities in Cuyahoga County, such as Brooklyn, North Royalton, South Euclid, Walton Hills and Woodmere, have passed similar ordinances, in the Westshore area only North Olmsted has banned wireless use while driving. “The (North Olmsted police) chief hates the fact that they are the only community with the ban,” commented council President Jim Moran. He added that surrounding communities adopting such a ban would do more to keep drivers’ eyes on the road and off the phones.
The only exceptions to the law would be drivers using a Bluetooth or another hands-free device, or a driver contacting law enforcement or emergency services. Drivers of cars that are stopped, not in traffic flow, and safety and service personnel using phones as part of their duties will also be exempt.
“The first reaction will be, ‘What’s next? How far do you go?’” predicted Hunt, referring to the fact that legislation such as this is often interpreted by individuals as a “nanny state” and an infringement upon their rights.
“Texting has put everything over the edge,” commented Councilman at Large Fred DeGrandis, adding, “You can get distracted by reaching for a cup of coffee.”