NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The city may soon be joining the ranks of towns making it illegal to do anything behind the wheel except drive.
City Council President Bernadine Butkowski has introduced legislation that would impose a $100 fine for a first offense, $200 for a second, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses for anyone found to be text messaging while driving. Anyone found to have caused an accident while texting could be sentenced to a maximum of 30 days in jail and fined up to $250. The latter penalties would be the equivalent of those handed out for persons found guilty of fourth-degree misdemeanors.
“Some states have already banned it statewide, and there’s been some talk about doing nationally,” Butkowski said. “I thought it would be good for us to be a little proactive on this.”
Alaska, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington have already banned texting statewide, and another 16 states are mulling similar bans.
In Ohio, Cleveland has already approved such a ban, and Toledo is considering one.
“The fact that texting is getting as bad or worse than DUIs in causing accidents is reason enough to consider doing something about it,” Butkowski said.
A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found drivers who are texting increase the risk of a crash or near-crash 23 times.
Some 158 billion text messages were sent in 2006, a jump of 95 percent over 2005, according to the New York Times.
A 2006 study by Nationwide Insurance concluded 19 percent of all drivers use text messaging at the wheel. The figure rises to 37 percent for drivers ages 18-27.
City statutes currently include language that requires drivers have their full attention on the road, “but there is no specific wording that addresses texting,” Butkowski said. “It’s wide open right now. If we had more exact language, it would make it much easier to enforce if a case comes to court.”
Exceptions to the texting ban would include anyone trying to contact police, fire or emergency personnel, and anyone who is texting inside a vehicle that is parked or stopped.
If passed, the proposed ordinance also would allow for signs advising motorists of the texting ban to be put up on major roads at the city limits.
The ordinance has been referred to council’s Safety Committee for review.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.