Columbus Prepares Texting While Driving Ban.

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Columbus City Council early next month will consider a ban on texting while driving. The sponsor of the proposal says promotes it as “common sense” legislation that’s needed to keep city streets and highways safer. WOSU’s Tom Borgerding reports.

Columbus council member Andrew Ginther says too many drivers are putting others at risk when they text behind the wheel.

“So its time for the largest city in the state of Ohio to take action on this issue that’s affecting everybody’s safety.”

But the scope of the problem of texting while driving is hard to measure.

“We don’t have statistics that tell us exactly how big a problem it is.”

Nancie Bechtel, Executive Director of Central Ohio Trauma System, keeps track of motor vehicle crash injuries and deaths. But, she says its uncertain how much trauma is a direct result of texting while driving.

“Even on state crash report forms previously there has not been any dedicated field that says this driver was texting when they crashed. And a lot of times even when drivers are asked if they were texting they say no because they know it wasn’t the right thing to do.” Says Bechtel.

Still, Bechtel says texting while driving is a serious problem. She cites larger studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that count 500,000 injured and 6,000 dead in crashes involving distracted drivers who were using cellphones. In crafting Columbus proposed texting while driving ban, Council member Ginther says a generational trend also surfaces.

“What we’ve continued to see in studies nationally and in other parts of the country is that this puts some of our youngest, most inexperienced drivers at greatest risk because of the access and usage of cellphones and blackberries and texting.” Says Ginther.

Even though the toll of texting while driving is still being quantified. Ginther and others say its just common sense to ban the practice. Bechtel says texting is much more of a distraction than eating a sandwich while driving or carrying on a conversation.

“When you’re texting you actually have to take your eyes off the road, focus your eyes on a screen. It involves different areas again of use of the brain.” Bechtel says. “So its more of a mind off the road, plus your eyes are off the road for a longer period of time. Plus when you throw in the cortical motor activity of actually using your fingers to do the texting it’s a much higher brain activities than other forms of distraction.”

So what will Columbus’ proposed ordinance ban?

“This is primarily going to be an electronic hand-held device where you would be texting back and forth or reading or sending e-mails back and forth.”

Council member Ginther says, if approved as written the texting while driving ban will be a primary offense in Columbus meaning officers can pull over and cite a driver if they observe him or her texting. The proposed fine is $150. While Columbus considers its ban several other Central Ohio cities are also proposing such bans. Bexley banned texting while driving late last year. But, so far, mayor John Brennan says not one citation has been written.

Tom Borgerding

WOSU News

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