Lakewood City Council Strengthens City's Distracted Driving Laws

LAKEWOOD CITY COUNCIL STRENGTHENS CITY’S DISTRACTED DRIVING LAWS

Cell phone use while driving will be a primary offense unless hands-free

LAKEWOOD, OH – On Tuesday, September 3, 2019, Lakewood City Council unanimously adopted legislation to ban the use of cell phones and other electronic wireless communication devices while driving to make Lakewood streets safer for all drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. The Ordinance, Ordinance 5-19, goes into effect 90 days from passage. The legislation also elevates cell phone-related offenses from secondary to primary, meaning that an officer does not need to identify an accompanying traffic violation in order to issue a ticket. Under the ordinance, an officer may charge a first offender with a minor misdemeanor and issue a $150 fine. The new ordinance substantially strengthens the City’s existing law, which pertains only to texting and does not address the broad range of other phone-related tasks which frequently distract drivers.

Each year nearly 4,000 Americans are killed and close to 400,000 are injured annually in accidents involving distracted drivers. Because drivers don’t always admit to distracted driving, the actual numbers of injuries and deaths is estimated to be much higher.

Council President O’Leary was moved to propose the ban after hearing from many residents about near misses with distracted drivers and experiencing the same himself. “On balance, this is a really important step to make our community safer,” he said. What we need in our society with respect to using a cell phone while driving, is a cultural shift the same way that we had to confront the dangers of drinking and driving. And actually, all the data suggests that the dangers of cell phone use while driving is on par with the dangers of drinking and driving.”

Public Safety Committee Chairman Tom Bullock guided the legislation through several technical revisions and focused committee discussion on carving out narrow exceptions for;

  • Communicating or navigating using hands-free features built into the vehicle.
  • Communicating or using navigation tools on a mounted device.
  • Accepting a fare, accepting a call, or making a call using a device’s one-touch capability if the device is mounted.

"Recommendations made by the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force were quite important to me in supporting Lakewood's new law. Their research shows that distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, it's on the rise in Ohio, and Cuyahoga County is among the top three for distracted driving deaths and serious injuries. Current laws aren't enough, since they lack clarity and aren't a primary offense, which we know has reduced traffic deaths in other states," said Bullock.

"Since distracted driving crashes are 100 percent preventable, Lakewood should prevent them. We've taken a critical first step in adopting this new law."

According to the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force, jurisdictions which have enacted similar bans on cell phone use while driving have experienced a significant decrease in traffic fatalities. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have laws that prohibit the use of handheld devices while driving and make using a device a primary offense. The Ohio Revised Code allows Ohio municipalities to enact distracted driving laws that go above and beyond the current state law. The Task Force has recommended that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine implement changes similar to those Lakewood made statewide.

Mayor Summers signed the legislation the day after adoption. He and Lakewood Police Chief Timothy Malley have expressed support for this measure throughout the legislative process.

“The Lakewood Police Department supports the new ordinance on distracted driving as an important step forward in deterring preventable accidents,” said Chief Malley.  “Distracted driving is a major cause of crashes on our roadways and giving our officers the tools to prevent these crashes from happening is appropriate.”

Maureen Bach

Maureen Bach is a proud Lakewood resident since 2012 and Clerk of Lakewood City Council.

Read More on City
Volume 15, Issue 20, Posted 4:59 PM, 10.16.2019