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Lively debate ensues over Ohio House texting-while-driving bill

A number of comments from Ohio legislators, traffic safety lobbyists, law enforcement officials and municipal administrators indicate that many people in the state see a close nexus between texting while driving and car accidents and want to do something about it.

The question that predominates discussion of the issue, though, also precludes arrival at any consensus on what that something might be.

In a word, that question is this: What?

The Ohio House passed an anti-texting bill last year by a wide margin, but the legislation has sat since then in a Senate committee, seemingly and implacably stalled.

Some people — such as Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, who is vice-chairman of the committee — sound reasonably hopeful that a good and useful law will eventually emerge. LaRose urges proponents not to get impatient.

“We’re not just trying to rush something through that’s not thought out,” he says.

Others sound less hopeful, noting that it is difficult to even define through statutory language what texting is. In the context of an anti-texting law that comes with enforcement reprisals, should it be confined to the sending of messages? What about searching for information? What about reading a message?

For Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, the sponsor of the original bill, the answer is easy and unequivocal.

“Any time you take your eyes off the wheel on a cell phone, that’s texting,” he says.

Others disagree, though, and point further to the likely problems with enforcement. Car crash data from several studies in states with strong anti-texting laws indicate that accidents actually went up following new enforcement measures. People become aware that police officers are watching, and make more efforts to hide the activity. That is flatly dangerous and can bring occasional results far from what an anti-texting law seeks to obtain.

Others still point to Ohio’s already extant reckless driving statute and say that texting while driving might fit within that.

With the multitude of opinions floating about, AAA Ohio spokeswoman Kimberly Schwind is left to simply comment that legislators “are concerned about the wording.”

“Hopefully we’ll start to see some movement on it soon,” she says.

Source: Lancaster Eagle Gazette, “Texting/driving state ban stalls,” Jessica Alaimo, April 9, 2012