MARIETTA - Ohio's ban on texting while driving has been in place for just over three weeks. Though it is only in its six-month warning period, some are already complaining that the law does not go far enough to prevent distracted driving.
The Washington, D.C.-based Governors Highway Safety Association says Ohio needs to join West Virginia and the nine other states who prohibit the use of any hand-held electronic device while behind the wheel.
In Ohio, texting while driving is a secondary offense for adult drivers, meaning law enforcement agencies can only ticket the offense if they pull drivers over for a primary offense such as speeding.
In West Virginia, texting is a primary offense, meaning a driver can be pulled over and ticketing solely for texting. Talking on a handheld cell phone will become a primary offense in West Virginia on July 1, 2013, but will remain secondary until then.
Local opinions vary as to the degree that handheld device usage should be regulated. Some residents believe that an all out ban of handheld usage is excessive.
"I think that is going too far," said Steve Coe, 53, of Vincent.
A Closer Look
Ohio's ban on texting while driving went into a warning period Aug. 31.
Ohio joined 38 states, Washington, D.C., Guam, and the Virgin Islands in banning texting for all drivers.
Ohio's new law prohibits those under 18 from using a handheld cell phone entirely.
Only 10 states, including West Virginia, ban handheld cell phone usage for all drivers.
Marietta resident, Kayleigh Oates, 26, feels the same way.
"I disagree with talking being banned," said Oates.
Oates, who frequently uses her phone for her business, said an all-out ban would be going too far.
"It isn't any different than reaching over to turn the radio," explained Oates.
Local legislators have faith that the law enacted in August is strong enough for the time being.
"I'm a little concerned about being so comprehensive in that sense," said Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta.
Texting became the focus of the Ohio law because of specific examples that related texting to accidents, said state Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta.
"My preference would be to let the current law take effect, and see if that eliminates the problem," said Thompson
Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, agreed that the current law needs to be given a chance before we move on to enacting new laws.
"I would like to see the impact this has in terms of public safety. I would be open to seeing research," said Phillips.
Marietta College junior and Newport resident Maggie Alden said she was torn on the issue. Alden cited that there are occasionally times when you need to make a phone call.
However, "If you are dialing on your cell phone it is sort of the same thing as texting," said Alden.
Many area residents pointed to the rise in Bluetooth usage as a solution to the problem of talking while driving. A ban on handheld devices would still allow for the use of phones that are connected to a hands-free device. The devices can be worn in the driver's ear or can be a part of the console in newer vehicles, and they do not require the use of the driver's hand to dial or answer phone calls.
William Ford, 89, who owns William Ford Trucking in Marietta, said that all of his drivers use Bluetooth devices.
"These new ones are just wonderful," said Ford of the hands-free headsets.
With the advent of the Siri app, lots of cell phone functions no longer require hands, pointed out Marietta resident Roger Forshey, 48.
The iPhone's Siri and other similar voice controlled software enable many cell phone users to control their phones with their voice rather than their hands.
"There should be more of a law against smoking and driving or eating fast food and driving," said Forshey, who cited those activities as just as dangerous.
There's a whole variety of things that cause driver distraction, said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
"I am in favor of eliminating whatever you can in the case of driver distraction," said Minks.
That being said, Mincks said he'd leave the decision about future laws up to the legislature.