Akron City Council passed legislation Monday outlawing texting while driving that isn’t as tough as some would have liked.
The legislation mirrors a state law that police began enforcing this month that makes texting a secondary offense for adult drivers, meaning police can only pull them over if they are doing something else wrong. The ordinance makes 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 legislation 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 dangerous and needs to be curtailed.
The backlash led Williams and Kammer to introduce a revised ordinance that instead made texting a secondary offense for adults, while keeping it a primary offense for younger drivers. Councilmen Jeff Fusco and Ken Jones proposed their own texting ordinance with these provisions and some exceptions to the ban, such as for those using hands-free devices. Their version also required a portion of the fines to go to an education campaign.
Williams and Kammer withdrew their legislation Monday and added their names to the Fusco/Jones ordinance. Williams said he thinks council and the state legislature eventually will consider getting tougher on drivers who text.
“At some point in time, we will be revisiting this,” said Williams, who noted that only about a third of the 13-member council supported making texting a primary offense. “Our objective is to correct the behavior we’ve seen on the road — people who are distracted while driving.”
Fusco said council needs to stay on top of the advancements in the technology that people are using to communicate while driving.
“We have to continue to watch how technology is evolving and stay up-to-date,” he said.
A violation of the city’s ordinance or the state law by an adult is 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.
Kammer said he thinks the debate over Akron’s texting proposals helped raise awareness in the community about the danger of texting while driving.
“I think we did a lot of good here,” he said.
Williams said working on the texting legislation made him modify his own cellphone use while driving and to talk to some friends, whom he called “serial offenders.”
“There are things we are all doing behind the wheel of a car that we should not be doing,” he said.