Texting while driving can’t be tolerated

First Posted: 3/9/2015

History can be a tremendous teacher if we allow it.

There was a time in the 1970s and the early part of the ’80s where leniency was shown to teenagers when caught drinking and driving. It was not uncommon to hear stories about police catching violators and turning them over to their parents instead of taking them to jail.

But laws and attitudes shifted swiftly in the ensuing years as alcohol’s deadly grip became more pronounced. Zero-tolerance laws were put into place for drivers under age 21 and enforcement was tightened for minimum legal drinking ages. Educational programs, such as the push for designated drivers, were made a priority.

It took time, but positive results finally arrived. An 18.7 percent decline in DUI fatalities from 2002 to 2012 was recorded in Ohio. For those under the age of 21, the decline was even greater at 32.2 percent. The numbers continue to decrease as police and courts keep up the pressure.

Today, however, another battle is emerging with consequences just as deadly as DUI. It involves people who text while driving. Ohio has a law against it, but similar to the ’70s and ’80s, it lacks enforcement.

The blame for that lies with the Ohio Senate. Before enacting the 2012 law, it revised the bill to make texting while driving a secondary offense for adults, meaning drivers must be pulled over for another offense before they can be ticketed for texting. The behavior is a primary offense for drivers under age 18.

Only four other states besides Ohio handle it in such manner, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. It’s a primary offense for everyone in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

How bad of a problem is texting and driving?

The National Safety Council calls it a national epidemic — one that is quickly becoming among the country’s top killers.

Consider the numbers:

• People texting while driving are 23 times more likely to crash, and about six times more likely to cause an accident than those driving while intoxicated.

• For the average person, it is the same as driving after he or she has consumed four beers.

• Driving while texting slows a person’s brake reaction speed by 18 percent and leads to a 400-percent increase with eyes off the road.

• Every day, 11 teens die as a result of texting while driving.

The courts now show no mercy when it comes to DUI. A conviction can cost $5,000 to $12,000 in attorney’s fees, court costs and fines, as well as increased insurance costs and loss of income from jail time or being fired. That’s only if there was no harm to property or personal life. More serious accidents can result in thousands of dollars more or prison time if someone is killed.

Why shouldn’t fatal crashes caused by distracted drivers using a cellphone result in just as harsh of consequences?

Authorities say it is difficult to enforce Ohio’s law because an adult driver must commit another violation to be pulled over and it can be difficult to determine whether a driver is under age 18.

The law also includes 10 exemptions, such as using the GPS feature, reading or entering a phone number and sending or reading text messages through a hands-free device or function of the vehicle.

Back in the 1970s and ’80s, not a big enough deal was made about drinking and driving. That was wrong.

Whatever combination of actions it takes, the Ohio legislature needs to revisit its law against texting while driving and put some teeth into it.

The next life lost could be one of your loved ones.

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