Proposed Ohio cell phone law raises many questions

By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

CELL PHONE BAN: A proposed Ohio law would ban cell phone use in school zones, including during recess hours, even if recess areas are behind the building, like at Edgewater Elementary in Toledo.

Using a cell phone in a school or construction zone may soon be illegal in Ohio.

A bill introduced by Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, would prohibit the use of any electronic wireless device when in a construction zone during actual work hours.

It would also make it illegal to use such devices in a school zone during hours when children are present — and that includes when they are at recess, not just during opening and closing times.

House Bill 637 also makes the illegal use of cell phones for texting – writing, sending and reading – a primary offense for adults. Currently, drivers 18 years and older can only be cited for such infractions if it’s in conjunction with another traffic violation.

Why does Ohio need another bill?

According to an August article in the Columbus Dispatch and research in the American Journal of Public Health, Ohio’s current law isn’t effective. The State Highway Patrol had only written 440 tickets for texting and driving since the ban took effect in March 2013.

Law enforcement officials said it is more difficult to enforce the secondary ban for adults and drivers try to hide the fact they are texting.

Voluntary compliance with the law is needed to stamp out distractions, (patrol spokesman Lt. Craig) Cvetan said.

“Whether it’s a primary or a secondary, somebody who knows it’s against the law is going to hide the action,” he said. “The officer can’t see them doing it to enforce it.”

This raises a host of questions:

If people are hiding it and voluntary compliance is needed, how will making it a primary offense solve the problem?

How will police determine if the driver was texting or making a call?

What if the driver claims he wasn’t texting but was reading directions?

Will a warrant be required to view the activity on the phone?

What if the phone was being used as a GPS device? Does it make a difference if the text being entered was an address or location for positioning?

But that’s only part of the proposed law. There are numerous questions about how law enforcement will deal with a cell phone ban in school zones, too.

How will drivers know if kids are at recess?

Drivers are aware of school zones because of signs and flashing yellow lights that notify them when the speed restrictions are in place. Will schools have to activate those same signs when children are at recess too?

What if the recess area is not visible from the street?

Presumably, the law is to prevent drivers from being distracted whenever children are present, but if the children cannot be seen from the roadway, what is the law protecting them from?

But even that’s not all.

Will the bill see any action this year in the lame duck session?

Will the bill be reintroduced next year when the new General Assembly is convened?

If everyone agrees that cell phone use while driving is bad, wouldn’t it just be easier to implement a complete ban on their use, whether for calls, texting or directions, than it is to have myriad laws that only apply under certain conditions?

Ohio Watchdog wanted to ask Damschroder these questions to learn whether the sponsor had thought about the actual implementation, but he didn’t return our calls prior to publication.

Hopefully these issues will be addressed in committee hearings before the bill is passed, otherwise Ohio may find itself passing even more laws to address its ineffective ones.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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