By MARGIE NETZEL - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ohio State Highway Patrol has a message for drivers — keep your eyes on the road.
“We now can, and will, pull motorists over for texting while driving,” OHP Ashtabula Post Lt. Jerad Sutton said.
State law now identifies underage texting while driving a “primary violation,” Sutton said, meaning a law enforcement officer can initiate a traffic stop based solely on that offense. Other offenses, such as driving without a seat belt, are considered “secondary violations,” meaning that an officer must have another reason to initiate the traffic stop. Adults who text and drive fall under the “secondary violation” offenders and must be pulled over for another moving or equipment violation.
The state law restricts anyone from “driving distracted,” Sutton said, and also prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from even talking on the telephone while driving.
“Anyone over the age of 18 can talk on a cell phone while driving,” Sutton said, “but no one can text and drive.”
The fine will be $150, the OHP website reports. Drivers 17 years old or younger will pay the fine and suffer a 60-day license suspension. Officers will issue warnings to violators for six months and then start ticketing.
The term “distracted driving” covers much more than just cell phone use in the car, Sutton said.
“Distracted driving means no texting, no searching the internet, no reading a book, no messing around with the gadgets in the car including GPS systems, cell phones, iPad’s and iPods,” he said.
Over the last three years, 31,231 crashes, including 7,825 injury crashes and the deaths of 74 people were caused by distracted drivers, OHP reports.
OHP reports that sending or reading text messages takes a driver’s eyes off the road for about 4.6 seconds — just about the time it takes to drive the length of a football field at 55 mph.
“Distracted driving certainly is dangerous,” Sutton said. “We use a distracted driving simulator from ODOT to demonstrate just how dangerous it can be to be looking at a cell phone instead of the road. It’s a real eye opener.”