Don’t text & drive

One week after the city of Marietta implemented a ban on the use of wireless devices while driving, the Marietta Police Department has written 55 warnings to motorists.

Drivers have one more week in the two-week grace period before warnings turn into traffic citations on July 19, which are a minor misdemeanor that can mean a fine of up to $150.

City police said that throughout the first seven days, reception to the warnings has been mostly positive, and that the department hopes the grace period will continue to increase awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.

“For most we’ve stopped it’s been a positive thing,” said Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite. “We expect a few to be agitated or argumentative, but the majority of stops have been positive interactions with motorists who understand.”

Within the 55 warnings, two actual citations were written, one for a motorist with a suspended license and one for someone with expired plates.

And of the warnings, only 17 were issued to residents of Marietta, while 26 were from outside the city and 12 were outside the state of Ohio, with most coming from West Virginia.

“Outside city is the majority, because people in town are naturally more aware of the law, so that was not surprising,” Waite said.

And when it comes to the gender dynamic, Waite said there is a nearly perfect balance.

“It was 27 male and 29 female, so it’s running about 50/50,” he said. “And from watching people I see just as many men as I do women on their phones, and that’s what the figures show.”

Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews said though he does not deal directly with the warnings, he thinks the process has gone fairly well.

“It’s hard to say what you think of the number, because it’s hard to know what to expect in the first place,” he said. “The thing about it is, we’ve given people ample time, because this was passed three months ago, we’ve advertised it and we have 14 signs up all over.”

In addition to the 14 signs warning drivers that use of any wireless devices, from cell phones to GPS, are prohibited while driving, officers have been passing out fliers warning of the dangers anytime someone is pulled over for the offense.

“We want to get the word out, and word of mouth will do that,” Waite said. “We hear people talking and a lot of them are aware of it now.”

Waite said the most common offense is motorists dialing or speaking on their cell phones, as no warnings have been issued yet for devices other than cell phones and fewer have been written for texting.

“We realize the texting is harder to catch, but we’re also working on better ways to observe that,” he said.

And just like any other time someone might get pulled over, police have noticed patterns of excuses.

“The one I’ve heard the most is that ‘I was stopped at the red light, so I was not moving,'” Waite said. “And many have said they weren’t aware the law existed.”

Marietta’s law exceeds the state of Ohio’s law by making it a primary offense, meaning a motorist does not have to commit a second moving violation to be pulled over. In Ohio, texting at any age while driving and cell phone use for those under 18 are illegal.

Waite and fellow police have noticed that people have been concerned about calling police or 911 while in their car to report a drunk driver or other emergency, Waite said.

“The dangers of people driving down the road drunk supersede this law, and same goes for any emergency situation,” he said. “Many people are not familiar with the law and that’s caused a lot of questions, but if you see something like that, you can call while driving.”

Under Ohio Revised Code, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office also has the authority to enforce the law.

“We have not written out anything yet, but we do have the authority to,” said Sheriff Larry Mincks. “But normally we do not enforce municipal corporation laws because we have plenty to do outside the city.”

Mincks said it would be likely that if one of his deputies saw someone using a mobile device in a way that would cause immediate danger, a deputy might choose to pull the motorist over.

Officials said that because Ohio State Highway Patrol officers only patrol laws that fall under the state code, they do not police any city ordinances, but can pull motorists over for texting on a secondary offense since that is a state law.