Streetsboro officials want to increase the legal pressure on drivers who use their electronic devices behind the wheel.
Currently, drivers can only be cited for texting while driving if police catch them doing it while speeding, if it played a role in a crash or similar scenarios. In such cases, it would be a secondary offense.
Under a proposed city ordinance, officers will be permitted to stop drivers who are viewed using any type of electronic device, whether or not any other infraction or accident is evident.
Included are cell phones, text messaging devices, personal digital assistants, computers, any device capable of displaying videos, movies, television images, or visual images, or any similar device.
Police would be allowed to stop drivers who are holding such devices or physically supporting them with any part of their bodies, the amended legislation states. The penalty for being caught is an “unclassified misdemeanor,” which means no jail time, but there are fines.
“If you’re witnessed by one of the police officers using a cell phone or an iPad or watching TV while you drive, they could pull you over,” Streetsboro Mayor Glenn Broska said.
The proposed ordinance is based on a state ordinance that Ohio legislators have not been able to pass, he said, adding that he is frustrated by what he sees on Streetsboro’s roadways.
“Forty percent of the accidents we have in town are assured clear distance,” he said, referring to crashes in which a driver runs into something in front of them, even though they are responsible for ensuring enough distance from objects to avoid a collision.
“Why? Are they not paying attention? Are they on their phone or whatever?” he said. “When you have one type of accident that is responsible for that amount of accidents, there’s a problem there.”
The problem, said Streetsboro Police Chief Tricia Wain, is drivers’ distraction.
“There is something to be said for responsible cell phone use or electronic device use in a car, so if this is something that can help with that and keep them a little more focused on the road, on what’s ahead of them, and around them, and behind them, I’d have to say we’re all for it,” she said.
Broska expects council members to tweak the ordinance language before voting on it, but he hopes the core intent will remain.
Drivers who are using the devices for legitimate emergencies are exempted from penalties.
Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.