Akron City Council is now considering dueling pieces of legislation aimed at curbing texting while driving.
Both ordinances would mirror a state law that police will begin enforcing next month that makes texting a secondary offense for adult drivers, meaning police could only pull them over if they are doing something else wrong. The Akron ordinances would make texting or the use of any electronic device while driving a primary offense for those under the age of 18, which gives police the right to stop them just for this offense.
Councilmen Mike Williams and Donnie Kammer originally introduced a texting ordinance last month that would have made texting a primary offense for drivers regardless of their age. This led to an outcry by some local African-American ministers and the Akron chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who were concerned that police could use the ordinance to target minorities. Others expressed support for the ordinance, arguing that texting while driving is distracting and needs to be curtailed.
Williams and Kammer proposed a modified version of their legislation Monday that would drop texting to a secondary offense for adult drivers, while keeping it a primary offense for younger drivers.
At the same time, Councilmen Jeff Fusco and Ken Jones introduced a competing texting ordinance. This legislation would add some exceptions to the texting ban, such as for those using hands-free devices and those who use mobile data terminals in the course of their jobs, such as FedEx drivers and police. The ordinance also would require that a portion of the fines go to an education campaign.
Council members didn’t take action on either ordinance Monday, delaying a decision for at least another week.
Williams, who often is at odds with the mayor and the majority of council that generally backs the administration, wasn’t pleased by the second piece of legislation being introduced. He called this move “disrespectful.”
“Part of our job here on council is to keep our eyes focused on the citizens — not on petty political moves,” he said. “I will continue to do that. I’m disappointed, but not surprised.”
Fusco and Jones, however, said they introduced the new piece in response to concerns raised about the initial Williams/ Kammer proposal. Jones said he had heard from many of his constituents in Ward 5 who thought the original proposal wasn’t “good legislation.”
“At no time were we looking at superseding anything,” he said.
Councilman Russel Neal Jr. said the legislation council adopts could help “save a life.” He said council shouldn’t lose sight of this in a political squabble.
“No matter what side of the fence you are on, this could affect someone’s life,” he said.
Darian Johnson, who is with the Akron chapter of the NAACP and had spoken against the Williams/Kammer legislation, said Monday that the group supports the Fusco/ Jones proposal because it makes texting a secondary offense and incorporates an educational component.
Both Akron ordinances and the state law would make a violation by an adult a minor misdemeanor, punishable by a $150 fine. An initial violation by a juvenile would carry a stiffer penalty — a $150 fine and a 60-day license suspension. Subsequent offenses by a youth would draw a $300 fine and a one-year license suspension.
Council President Garry Moneypenny, a retired chief deputy with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office who testified in favor of the state legislation, said Monday he thinks texting eventually will be made a primary offense for all drivers. Cleveland has been weighing legislation that would ban drivers of any age from using cellphones while driving — whether texting or talking.
In other business, council passed a resolution that congratulated the Black Keys for the rock group’s recent Grammy wins.
Patrick Carney, the Black Keys’ drummer, said in an email Monday that the group appreciates the recognition.
“Dan [Auerbach] and I thank Akron City Council for the resolution and want to thank all of our fans in Akron for their support!” said Carney, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn. “We will always consider Akron as our home and look forward to the next time we make it back to Akron. We have passed a resolution that the cheese on the salads at Luigi’s is awesome!”