MARTINS FERRY Ohio drivers, put down those cell phones.
Texting while driving becomes illegal Friday.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 99 into law back in June. The legislation classifies texting while driving as a secondary traffic offense.
Texting while driving becomes illegal in Ohio on Friday, making it the 39th state to have such a law.
So, while it is illegal for adults to text and drive, it cannot be the sole reason a law enforcement officer initiates a traffic stop.
The City of Martins Ferry and its police force have been enforcing a similar law since June of 2010 when council voted to ban sending, receiving and viewing text messages while driving within city limits.
When asked how many tickets had been issued since the ordinance's passage, police chief John McFarland's answer was short and simple.
"From what I can recall, there has only been one time we've cited someone for texting while driving," McFarland said.
The chief explained the driver in question was observed driving left of center around 8 or 9 a.m. one morning.
The responding officer pulled the driver over, thinking intoxication was the cause of the erratic driving behavior.
The man told the officer that he was not drunk, but texting on his phone, hence the swerving. He was eventually convicted. But again, that was the lone time.
"Unless you can get someone to admit to texting while driving, it's tough to cite them," McFarland said. "Now, when I'm in my personal vehicle riding around town, I can see 100 people doing it.
"But in a police car, it's a little different."
McFarland said that if there is an accident and the responding officer suspects texting may have been the culprit, then cell phone records can be accessed to prove whether texting was a contributing factor or not.
However, an officer cannot simply confiscate the phone. Unless the driver willingly hands over his or her cell phone, the officer cannot take the device without a warrant.
While enforcing the law won't be easy, McFarland does admit the premise is sound. Texting while driving is an unsafe habit.
"People need to understand the importance of not texting while driving," McFarland said. "Keep your eyes on the road."
The rules are more strict for minors in the legislation.
No minor can operate any electronic device while driving, except for using a cell phone in an extreme emergency situation. Minors may call the police, fire department, emergency services, etc. just not their friends.
A GPS device is also permissible, provided the coordinates are entered prior to the car moving toward its destination.
Unlike the adults, teens can be pulled over specifically for use of an electronic device.
There will be a six-month grace period on the law, starting Friday. Anyone minor pulled over for use of a device or adult driver in violation will receive a written warning.
After the grade period ends March 1, 2013, both adults and minors may be fined up to $150 for the first offense, $300 for the second.
Minors found in violation may also have their license suspended for 60 days for the first offense and up to a year for the second.
Ohio is the 39th state to ban texting while driving.
Hughes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org