By Linda Dillman
Frustrations aired by residents about motorists texting while driving could find Canal Winchester City Council tightening city code in an effort to enforce compliance.
“Obviously, this has been a big problem all over the United States,” said Councilman Mike Walker at council’s April 1 meeting.
Council members Will Bennett and Jill Amos said citizens discussed the problem during a recent Saturday coffee gathering and were unaware Canal Winchester has had a law addressing the issue since 2010.
Even though city code regulates sending, reading or writing a text message or accessing the Internet while driving, Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Forest Cassel said deputies only cite drivers with a minor misdemeanor when the situation involves a crash.
According to the code, no person shall operate a motor vehicle while using a mobile device to manually enter letters, numbers or text messages or read emails or text messages; or send, read, create or interact with internet-based content, play games or otherwise interact with the Internet.
However, drivers parked, standing, stopped or removed from the flow of traffic; stopped due an inoperable vehicle; a person reading, selecting or entering a name or telephone number in an electronic wireless communication device to make or receive a phone call are currently exempt from the provision.
Officers, according to the present city code, are not allowed to pull a car over for the sole purpose of determining if a violation was committed.
Law Director Gene Hollins said, although the current code was enacted in
2010, the state enacted its own texting while driving statute in 2012 and recently updated it with more stringent language. Many communities tightened their own codes and made enforcement a primary offense.
“I phoned the chief of police in Bexley about how they enforce their ordinance,” said Bennett. “They have signs posted throughout the city.”
Mayor Mike Ebert said when Canal Winchester originally enacted the city code he felt it should have contained stronger language.
While holding a phone in one hand and driving with the other is a form of distraction, Walker said there are other modes of distraction as well, such as holding a sandwich or soda in one hand and driving with another.
“What’s the difference?” asked Walker.
“I’ve seen people with books on their steering wheel,” Ebert added.
Cassel said the framework is already in place regarding texting while driving and Hollins said he will bring information back to council for more discussion and possible action.