August 20, 2014

Medina
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Police targeting texting ‘epidemic’

This screenshot is from a 30-second video that graphically depicts the deadly consequences of texting while driving. The video was produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as part of its “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign that kicked off Thursday. (NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION)

This screenshot is from a 30-second video that graphically depicts the deadly consequences of texting while driving. The video was produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as part of its “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign that kicked off Thursday. (NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION)

Police across the U.S. are cracking down on motorists who text while driving. Local area law enforcement agencies say they will do their part to ensure the national “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign, which began Thursday and runs through Tuesday, is a success.

“People need to know that we are serious about stopping this behavior,” Wadsworth Public Safety Director Matt Hiscock said. “Driving and texting has reached epidemic levels and enforcement of our state texting law is part of the cure.”

Officials warn drivers that violating Ohio’s texting law — which became effective Aug. 31, 2012 — can be costly.

For drivers younger than 18, the first violation can result in a $150 fine and driver’s license suspension for up to 60 days. Additional violations can trigger a fine of $300 and a one-year license suspension.

For adult drivers, the violation is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a $150 fine.

“We’re serious about enforcing texting laws. If you drive and text, you will pay,” Wadsworth Police Chief Randy Reinke said.

Officials cite the successes of the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign as proof that the combination of tough laws, targeted advertising and high-visibility enforcement can change people’s risky traffic behaviors.

But unlike drunken driving, texting while driving isn’t enough to justify a citation, according to Ohio law. Police need to suspect another traffic violation before a driver can be pulled over.

“The law, the way it’s set up, makes it difficult to enforce,” said Lt. Bill Haymaker, commander of the Medina post of the Ohio Highway Patrol. “You have to have other probable cause to pull the vehicle over, because texting is not a primary offense. They can’t be pulled over just for that even if we see them texting.”

Haymaker said once they are pulled over for a primary offense, they can be cited for that and for the texting violation if the officer can prove the driver was texting. Making a phone call is not against the law, though — only texting.

Haymaker said most all Medina County police agencies are participating in the campaign and will be looking for reasons to pull over distracted drivers.

“We’ve always had those, even before distracted driving became an issue with cell phones. And we take those seriously,” he said. “Those kinds of things cause crashes and those are the ones we want to enforce.”

The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute reports that 25 percent of teens respond to at least one text message every time they drive, and 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit that they have had extended, multimessage text conversations while driving.

The patrol reports 42 citations have been issued to underage drivers for texting and 230 violations among adults since March 2013 in Ohio.

Nationwide, more than 3,300 people were killed and 421,000 injured nationwide in 2012 in distracted-driving crashes.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that driving at 55 mph while texting is equivalent to a driver traveling the length of a football field — 100 yards — with his eyes closed.

“When you text while driving, you take your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and mind off the task of driving,” Hiscock said. “That puts everyone else’s lives in danger, and no one has the right to do that.”

The enforcement blitz is supported by an $8.5 million national advertising campaign, designed to raise awareness about the enforcement effort and remind people about the potentially deadly consequences of texting while driving.

The campaign includes a 30-second video produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that will run on networks across the county. The graphic video shows a teen driver texting and running a stop sign, resulting in fatal consequences for her and two passengers.

For more information, visit www.distraction.gov.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.