By Linda Dillman
Canal Winchester is a step closer to clamping down on motorists who text while driving by enacting a tougher ordinance bumping the violation from a secondary offense to a minor misdemeanor.
Under proposed language changes, “No person shall operate a motor vehicle on any street, highway or property…while using in any manner an electronic communication device.”
The revised section does not apply if the device is used for emergency purposes, including contact with agencies such as law enforcement, health care and fire departments or if a motor vehicle is stationary outside a lane of travel.
Also exempt are drivers in public safety vehicles using handheld devices in the course of their duties or the use of a voice-operated or hands-held navigation device.
The ordinance also allows for “A person conducting wireless interpersonal communication with a device that does not require manually entering letters, numbers or symbols or reading text messages, except to activate, deactivate or initiate the device…”
A driver is also within the law while using a handheld cellphone in conjunction with a voice-operated or hands-free device that is a feature or function of the vehicle.
Voice-operated or hands-free options are defined as devices that allow a user to vocally compose, send or listen to a text-based communication without the use of either hand except to activate a feature or function.
During an Oct. 7 council meeting, Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler told Canal Winchester City Council his city passed their hands-free distracted driving ordinance in 2017.
“It (a distracted driving ordinance) is so much better if it has a regional approach,” said Kessler, who reported Bexley set out to adopt a law that was a primary offense, similar to the one Canal Winchester is considering. “We put up signs on every road coming into Bexley and started with a lengthy learning period. We issued warnings for about a year (unless a flagrant violation). The biggest piece of it was a public information campaign.”
A public hearing was held in Town Hall on Sept. 30 to discuss the proposed ordinance changes. During the meeting, Canal Winchester City Council man Bob Clark said Bexley issued 73 texting while driving tickets since Jan. of 2018 and the offense is a $100 fine.
Since the proposed changes to the city code were held during a previous work session, council must first untable the ordinance during a work session and then forward the legislation on for first reading on the regular council agenda on Oct. 21.