Grove City updates its code to prohibit texting while driving

By Andrea Cordle
Grove City Editor

Officials in Grove City have updated the city code to prohibit texting while driving.

This measure was voted on by the City Council about a month after Senate Bill 288 went into effect on April 4. The bill designates the use of cell phones and other electronic communication devices while driving as a primary traffic offense for all drivers and allows law enforcement to immediately pull over a distracted driver upon witnessing a violation.

Under the previous law, distracted driving was not a primary offense and it prevented officers from stopping distracted drivers unless the individual also committed a separate primary traffic violation, such as speeding or running a red light.

According to Grove City Safety Director Kevin Teaford, a driver may still use their device in certain circumstances, such as when their vehicle is parked or stopped at a red light. Drivers are also permitted to swipe to answer a call and to hold their phones to their ears during conversations. Emergency calls are also permitted.

“You cannot punch in numbers or letters,” said Teaford. “If a driver needs to send a text or make a call, I encourage them to pull over to do so safely.”

City leaders are concerned about the risks of texting while driving.

Teaford said if a child runs out into the road to chase a ball, the driver’s average reaction time is just over one second. If that driver is not paying attention, that reaction time decreases.

“It’s all about reaction time,” said Teaford. “Will you have enough time to stop the car before striking the child?”

Teaford said he believes the number of accidents in the city caused by distracted driving is higher than documented, as officers typically arrive at an accident scene after the accident has happened and the driver may be unlikely to admit the cause of the accident was due to a distraction. From an enforcement standpoint, he also said it may be difficult for an officer to prove a driver was texting or that it was not an emergency.

“An officer is not permitted to confiscate a phone,” said Teaford. “The officer would need to prove if it (the phone or device) was used for an emergency.”

Still, the safety director believes this legislation will deter drivers from using their devices while driving.

“I believe education is the most important tool,” said Teaford. “Education, combined with enforcement, will make the community safer.”

The city will allow a six-month grace period when officers issue a warning to drivers caught using their devices.

According to Stephen Smith, the city’s law director, there is a sliding scale of penalties.

“The more times you get caught texting, the worse it gets for you,” said Smith.

The penalty starts at $150 for the first offense with two points on the license. The second offense within a two-year period, will have a $250 penalty and three points. The penalty could go up to a $500 fine with a suspension of the driver’s license.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol reports that there have been about 74,000 distracted driving crashes in Ohio since 2017, including more than 2,000 fatal and serious injury crashes. Traffic fatalities overall have increased in eight of nine years from 2013 to 2021, with deaths reaching their highest point in nearly two decades in 2021 with 1,355 fatalities. Preliminary traffic data from 2022 indicates that at least 1,269 people were killed in traffic crashes last year.

 

 

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