Nabbing violators proves to be tough

Photo Illustration by
Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune.

Despite hundreds of tickets written statewide since the law went into effect last year, Ohio’s texting
and driving ban may not be having the effect lawmakers intended.
Indeed, for a number of reasons, local authorities are finding it tough to nab violators.
"As far as our enforcement efforts go, it’s difficult at times to enforce that section of the
law," said Lt. Jerrod Savidge of the Bowling Green Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Under the law, juveniles can’t talk on their phones, text, or use other such hand-held devices behind the
wheel. For those under 18 it’s a primary offense, meaning officers can arrest them if they are observed
engaging in the activity.
For adults, texting and driving is a secondary offense, meaning they must be stopped for another traffic
offense first.
Fines can include $150 for the first offense, and juveniles can have their license suspended for 60 days.
Adults who offend multiple times can be fined $300, and those under 18 can have their license revoked.

According to the Associated Press, 273 citations were issued by the state patrol to drivers for texting
or using a cell phone while driving since the inception of the law in March of 2013; only 43 – about 15
percent – were issued to juveniles. The Bowling Green Patrol post’s computer software was unable to
provide figures for the citations they’ve issued. The Wood County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t issued any
citations for texting and driving. Bowling Green Police Division records showed only three citations in
the last year, including one for a traffic crash.
"It’s difficult to enforce," said Savidge, noting adult drivers can’t be pulled over for
texting only.
"Unless you suspect that they’re a juvenile, and you want to make sure you’re right when you do
something like that."
Savidge said he personally has observed people texting and driving, and "I think we’re still
experiencing crashes that people are very reluctant to come right out and say, ‘Yeah, I ran into this
guy because I was texting and driving.’"
"So our stats on that are maybe somewhat skewed," he added.
Maj. Tony Hetrick of the Bowling Green Police Division echoed Savidge.
"It’s a difficult law to enforce. You have to see them doing it. You have to see the device, and if
they hold it below the level of the window" that makes matters even tougher.
"People may be looking down for a number of reasons" in a car he said. "Then you also have
to determine whether the person meets the age restrictions."
"We knew this going into it that it would be hard to enforce," Hetrick added. "And once
you have a crash, do you seize someone’s cell phone as evidence?" Otherwise, he said, barring a
confession, it’s tough to determine if someone was texting.
Lt. Rodney Konrad of the Wood County Sheriff’s Office said that, though the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t
issued any texting citations, deputies "would look for that as much as they do any offense that’s
going on." He said that since the Sheriff’s Office covers a much more rural area and are generally
traveling at faster speeds, they don’t see those offenses as much as might be seen in the city.
Savidge opined that the law itself doesn’t seem to be making an impact.
"No, I don’t think it’s making a difference. Personally, I think legislators need to take the extra
step and make it a primary violation and maybe even expand the language in the law to include just doing
anything other than texting," such as playing a game, looking for a phone number, or other activity
on a handheld device.
Hetrick said changing the language to make texting a primary offense all around could result in more
traffic stops for texting, but the complicating factors of the law would still remain.