I live in the small town of Leipsic, which jokingly boasts more trains than residents. Locals joke that we spend a third of our time working or going to school, a third of our time sleeping and a third of our time waiting on trains.
In our region, waiting for trains, especially when there are seldom any other traffic slow-downs of any type, can seem like prison. Our culture tells us that we make the most of our time. Therefore, for many people, waiting on a train seems like a great time to grab phones to text friends, read emails or learn gossip from Facebook. Just recently, a close friend texted me while she was waiting on a train.
In Ohio, it is illegal to text and drive. Specifically, the law prohibits people from operating any vehicle (including tractors, golf carts and motorized scooters) while using “a handheld electronic wireless communication device to write, send or read a text-based communication.”
There are exceptions to the prohibition of texting while driving. However, stopping for a train is not a valid exception, unless the vehicle is in a stationary position and is not in a lane of travel. Therefore, if a driver is stopped, for a train, traffic or construction, the driver is still prohibited from texting.
There are other exceptions to the law that prohibits texting while driving. Notably, drivers entering addresses or names into a transportation navigation program (like a GPS) are not prohibited from doing so while driving. Similarly, drivers may us electronic devices that read text messages out loud and can interpret spoken words into sent text messages while driving.
Entering into a telephone the name or number of someone to call is allowable as long as it done “for the purpose of making or receiving a call.”
Obviously, law enforcement or safety personnel can text or email while driving as long as the texting is done “in the course of the person’s duties.”
Under current law, a law enforcement officer cannot stop a driver solely because the driver has been seen texting and driving. However, if there is any other reason to stop a vehicle, law enforcement may stop the vehicle and include violation of the no-texting law among the citations issued.
Ohio law does not prohibit local communities from having stricter or different laws concerning wireless communication devices. However, local communities cannot “water down” the state law.
Violation of Ohio’s no texting while driving law is technically a minor misdemeanor. However, if someone is injured as a result of an accident caused even in part by a driver who was texting or emailing, the criminal convictions and resulting sentences can and do far exceed the typical punishments associated with minor misdemeanors.
While waiting in traffic or waiting on trains, avoid the insatiable desire to pick up your phone. There are many things to do while waiting in traffic, but do not text or email unless you are stopped and out of the lane of travel.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-523-5523. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.