Akron is considering a ban on texting while driving that’s tougher than Ohio’s recently passed law.
Akron council members Mike Williams and Donnie Kammer introduced legislation Monday that would make texting while driving a primary offense for drivers regardless of their age.
The state law, which police will begin enforcing in March, makes texting a secondary offense for adult drivers, meaning that they can only be pulled over if they are doing something else wrong. The law, however, makes texting or any use of electronic devices while driving a primary offense for those under the age of 18, which gives police the right to stop them just for this offense.
Williams said he sees no reason for the age distinction.
“Those who don’t have pimples are doing the same thing,” he said, referring to older drivers.
Council members discussed the legislation during Monday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, with many of them posing questions. At Williams’ suggestion, they will delay action until at least council’s next meeting in two weeks.
Williams’ proposal is modeled after an ordinance approved by Cincinnati in October 2010. It would prohibit drivers from using a mobile electronic device to “compose, send or read” a text message or “send, read, create, play or interact with Internet-based content.”
Like the state law, youths under 18 would be prohibited from using mobile devices for any purpose while driving.
A violation for an adult would be 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.
Councilman Bob Hoch asked Williams why the legislation has a different penalty for adult and youth drivers.
“It should be the same across the board,” he said.
Williams said he would be open to making the tougher penalty apply to drivers of any age.
Councilman Russel Neal Jr. said he uses his cellphone as a navigation device and wondered if this would be prohibited under the legislation.
Williams said he hadn’t anticipated this question. He said he knows that navigation systems built into vehicles don’t permit people to make changes or type in new information unless they are stopped. He said this might not be the case for drivers using this tool on their cellphones.
Williams said his intent is to curb activities in the car that are severely time consuming and distracting, like texting and Internet surfing, rather than those that can normally be done without any problems, such as changing the radio station or putting in a CD.
Councilman Jeff Fusco asked whether Williams had talked to Akron police or the city prosecutor about how the legislation would be enforced. Williams and Assistant Law Director Janet Ciotola, who wrote the ordinance, said they had not.
Fusco said he wanted to know why the state made the offense secondary for adult drivers. Williams said he thought the legislation was a compromise between lawmakers who wanted a more expansive law and those who didn’t.
The state law began Aug. 30. It included a six-month education period in which police officers could warn drivers, but couldn’t give them tickets.
Williams hopes council members will give the legislation serious consideration, despite the fact he is often on the outs with the council majority and ran against Mayor Don Plusquellic in 2011.
“I think our members know and understand texting while driving is a problem,” he said.
Council President Garry Moneypenny, a retired chief deputy with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said he has some questions about the legislation, but thinks having a ban on texting while driving is a good idea. He testified before a legislative committee in favor of the state texting law.
“I know of no one who’s against it,” Moneypenny told the Beacon Journal in October 2009 after Summit County Council approved a texting-while-driving ban.
The Ohio Fraternal Order of Police supported the state law, with the president of the organization saying he would have preferred if texting while driving was a primary offense for all drivers, according to an Associated Press story.
Studies show that viewing or sending text messages puts motorists at an increased risk of accidents because their eyes stray from the road.
In other business, council approved plans and an agreement for the Ohio Edison/FirstEnergy Corp. campus in West Akron.
FirstEnergy plans to build a $45 million transmission control center on its property, replacing an existing center in Wadsworth Township. The highly secure facility will be built off the Mull Avenue entrance to the company’s 150-acre campus that already houses an Ohio Edison service center, a FirstEnergy call center and a large office building.
The city plans to give the company tax increment financing or TIF for the project.
A TIF deal freezes the value of the land before any improvements are made. Taxes are paid as if the land had never been developed. Additional money collected for the increased value of the land goes for a specified time to the project instead. In this case, the TIF will be used for public improvements, including a new turn lane and traffic signal on Mull, closer to White Pond Drive than the existing signal.
Legislation to finalize the TIF will be brought to council in five to six months, said Brad Beckert, Akron’s development engineering manager.