(by Rachel Scofield, staff writer - February 18, 2010)
It is the state government’s responsibility to ban text messaging while driving, Pickerington council’s safety committee decided.
Councilman Jeff Fix wanted the city to follow Bexley’s lead and create its own anti-texting ordinance, but none of his counterparts agreed.
“I don’t think a Pickerington bill is the most prudent thing to do,” Councilman Gavin Blair said.
While such bans are popular, feel-good legislation for cities, the state can do a lot more justice for it than Pickerington can, Blair said.
“There is a reason Bexley hasn’t issued a single citation for it,” Blair said.
Councilman Brian Wisniewski said that out-of-area drivers would not know of the Pickerington ban if they traveled through the city.
Rather than have the city enact a specific anti-texting ordinance, Wisniewski suggested that Pickerington strengthen its existing law that prohibits all forms of distracted driving.
Wisniewski recommended that the council change the violation to a primary offense, thus enabling police to pull over a car if the officer witnesses a distracted driver.
Currently an officer may only issue a ticket for distracted driving if they have stopped a vehicle for another traffic offense, Police Commander Steve Annetts said.
“Usually (a ticket for distraction) is the result of a traffic accident,” Annetts said.
Instead of a new ordinance, Blair suggested that the council write a letter supporting the state legislature as it considers two possible anti-texting bills - Senate Bill 164 and House Bill 415.
Both bills would prohibit a driver from text messaging except in the case of an emergency.
The senate bill would fine a first time offender $200 while the house bill proposes a $150 fine.
“I like Gavin’s endorsement idea,” Councilman Brian Sauer said. “I think it is a positive step that is in line with (the council members) being role models, as well as community leaders, as well as parents.”
Fix said that he expects neither bill to move quickly through the state legislature and he wanted his fellow council members give the ban more consideration.
“At worst, we take a few hours to learn about the issue,” Fix said. “I have a hard time waiting a year for the state to maybe do something.”
Fix proposed the texting ban after a teenager crashed her car in front of his house last fall.
Police and paramedics arrived quickly, but before the squad whisked her to the hospital, Fix heard her say, “Oh my god, my parents are going to kill me. I was texting.”
The safety committee will discuss the issue further at its next meeting to be held March 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pickerington City Hall.
Committee members invite residents to contact council members or attend the meeting to voice their opinions.
“I guarantee plenty of people will be here in March to give their thoughts,” Fix said.