The work of legislating is a matter of give and take, reflecting the principle of two heads proving better than one. In that spirit, the Akron City Council has moved toward improved legislation to discourage drivers from texting. Council members Jeff Fusco and Ken Jones have introduced a version that builds on the earlier proposal of Mike Williams and Donnie Kammer.
Fusco and Jones have added helpful provisions. One allows room for hands-free devices, smartphones capable of turning voice into text. Another recognizes how delivery operations perform, drivers working with wireless hand-held devices. Most important, Fusco and Jones have included an education component, a public campaign to reinforce the risks of texting while driving.
A consensus has formed around the sound idea of making texting a secondary offense. That is, except for drivers under age 18, who would face a primary offense, a police officer with the authority to stop a driver just for texting. Younger drivers are much more likely to text behind the wheel.
Whether primary or secondary, the act of nabbing drivers isn’t going to make the substantial difference. Habits must change, drivers alert to the danger in the average 4.6 seconds that texting diverts attention eyes from the road. Fusco and Jones propose routing a portion of the fines to educating drivers. Actually, it would be better to get started earlier with a campaign, adding to the legislation a grace period, the law taking effect after an interval in which drivers would be made aware the law is coming and how texting makes a driver 24 times more likely to have an accident.
Some council members still prefer making texting a primary offense, as Cincinnati does. Yet, it is best for the city to start with a secondary offense, heeding the concerns of local African-American ministers and the Akron chapter of the NAACP that the door would be open to trouble, a misjudgment or worse by a police officer deepening distrust of the police department in some neighborhoods. That distrust is a much greater problem for the city than texting while driving.
State lawmakers weighed such cautions in ultimately establishing a secondary offense, the state texting law taking effect on Friday. If the city acts, it would be wise to let the ordinance evolve, council members alert to ever-changing technology and the actual impact in the community.