Ohio drivers had better text “BRB” before getting into a vehicle — that is, if they don’t want to pay a fine or lose their license. For those not familiar with texting lingo, those letters stand for “be right back,’’ and that’s what Ohio drivers need to say before getting behind the wheel as the state’s texting-while-driving ban goes into effect Friday and violators could face a fine of up to $150 or, for drivers under the age of 18, a 60-day license suspension.
The law to ban texting while driving was signed by Gov. John Kasich on June 1. A six-month warning period will begin on Friday, and while police cannot ticket violators during that time, drivers are asked to put down the phone.
“(The warning period) is just trying to make sure it’s fair to motorists and giving them a chance to change their behavior,” said AAA spokesman Brian Newbacher.
The ban, otherwise known as House Bill 99, would prohibit driving a vehicle while “writing, sending, or reading a text-based communication on a handheld electronic wireless communications device.” It also prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a cell phone in any manner except for emergencies or while using a hands-free device. Drivers are allowed to use a cell phone while stopped or “outside the lane of travel.”
Texting while driving is a widespread problem, according to AAA, which conducted a survey that found 35 percent of motorists, and almost half of 18- to 24-year-olds, admitted to texting behind the wheel.
Newbacher said the ban should help curb distracted driving accidents, but others, like Russ Radar, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, say the ban may actually lead to more accidents.
“It’s not clear that police officers can effectively enforce the ban,” he said. “For one thing, drivers, especially young drivers, admit they continued to text and drive after the ban.”
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety completes several highway safety studies, including studies measuring the effectiveness of texting while driving bans.
One study looked at four states that implemented bans. The study found there were no reductions in crashes after the laws took effect. In three states, researchers found there was actually a slight increase in claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles.
Radar said the study did not find the cause for the increase, but said the institute suspects that drivers trying to conceal their cell phones on their lap may lead to more accidents. He said new safety features in vehicles that are designed to automatically brake when an object is ahead show more promise than traditional enforcement. The features have been introduced in several luxury vehicles, and Radar said they may be introduced to other vehicles in a few years.
The Elyria post of the Ohio Highway Patrol is reworking its policy and will begin additional training to enforce the ban, according to Sgt. Paul March.
Elyria police Lt. Andy Eichenlaub acknowledged there may be difficulties for police to enforce the ban as a secondary offense — drivers would have to be stopped for another traffic violation before they could be ticketed for texting while driving.
Under the legislation, drivers could use the cell phone to make phone calls and for navigation purposes. Eichenlaub said drivers would have to be truthful about their cell phone usage when stopped by police.
“There are some difficulties in enforcement, but you would have to rely on the honesty of that person,” he said.
But something has to be done, said Newbacher, who cited a survey in which 95 percent of Ohio AAA users supported a statewide ban. Newbacher added the dangers of cell phone use at the wheel are too big to ignore.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 5,400 people died in distracted-driving accidents in 2009 — 1,000 of which were because of cell phone use.
Newbacher said it is just not worth the risk for drivers to use a cell phone at the wheel.
“You may get away with it for a while, but you’re playing Russian roulette,” he said.
According to Nationwide Insurance, there are apps that can help with safety:
- Textecution. This Android app cuts off texting ability if the device is moving faster than 10 mph. If the user tries to remove Textecution, the administrator also gets a heads-up.
- tXtBlocker. Compatible with a range of smartphones, this app allows users to customize the locations and times of day — such as routine commuting or driving times — when texts and phone calls aren’t accepted.
- AT&T DriveMode. Available for Android, BlackBerry and iPhone, this app automatically sends a customized reply to incoming texts, just like an “out-of-office” autoreply. It also disables all ingoing and outgoing calls and Web browsing. Users manually enable the app before driving.
- DriveSafe.ly. Instead of shutting down communications entirely, this app reads text messages and emails out loud in real time, including shortcuts like LOL, and sends an autoresponse. You can even pick whether to have texts read to you with a male or female voice, or based upon the gender of the text sender.
By the numbers
- 5,400: Deaths in 2009 because of distracted-driver accidents.
- 1,000: Of the 5,400 traffic deaths in 2009 because of distracted drivers, the number that were linked to cell phone use.
- 95%: Ohio AAA users who supported the statewide ban.
- 35%: According to AAA, portion of motorists who admit to texting while driving.
Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.