SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Despite the prevalence of talking on handheld cell phones or texting while driving, Cleveland suburbs that prosecute the activities as a primary offense haven’t cited all that many drivers.
Beachwood cited 98 drivers last year; University Heights 18; and Pepper Pike 10.
Cell phone bans
“We have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were using the device; so in the majority of circumstances, officers actually see them using the devices,” Beachwood Police Chief Mark Sechrist said.
Cities with cell phone bans include Brooklyn, North Olmsted, North Royalton and South Euclid. Shaker Heights is considering a similar law that would allow police officers to pull over a driver for using a handheld cell phone.
Shaker Police Chief D. Scott Lee said the law is necessary now more than ever with the increased technology in cars, such as televisions and GPS devices.
“As a society, we are becoming more and more distracted while driving,” Lee said. “There are so many more things in our vehicles now than there were 15 or 20 years ago and we, as human beings, don’t have the ability to multitask as well as we think we can.”
The Shaker law would make it illegal to use any handheld electronic device while driving; however, it would not apply to drivers who use their cell phones to call for emergency help, government employees in public safety or public service vehicles, commercial truck drivers using mobile data terminals and anyone using voice-operated or hands-free devices. Drivers would be required to pull outside of travel lanes and vehicles stationary, legally parked or broken down in order to legally use their cell phones.
The cities’ bans are more stringent than the state’s ban, which as a secondary offense means that adults can only be ticketed for texting if they are pulled over for a different traffic violation. Minors can be pulled over for any use of an electronic device.
Twelve states and Washington D.C. prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving, according to the Governors’ Highway Safety Association. Forty-one states ban text messaging for all drivers, and 37 of those make texting a primary offense.
City bans are not very effective, said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the GHSA. There’s no statewide training available to officers, and not a lot of money for education or signage.
“Those are difficult to enforce because there’s not much money if any,” Adkins said in a phone interview. “It just doesn’t typically get the importance. City police have big issues, and this doesn’t always rise to the top of the public safety list.”
Lee said Shaker is following laws set in neighboring Beachwood and South Euclid because it is important that cell phone traffic laws in cities mirror one another, especially cities where borders connect, so drivers don’t have to worry about laws changing as they travel from one city to the next.
While police generally must see drivers using a cell phone in order to pull them over, officers can look for signs, Adkins said. Drivers might start and stop, and won’t keep up with the flow of traffic.
Lee said drivers using handheld devices exhibit some of the same behaviors as drunk drivers, including weaving, driving too slowly and excessive braking.
“We work with safety groups, and it’s just a known fact that distracted driving is a big factor in traffic crashes,” said Pepper Pike Police Chief Michael Cannon. Between July, when the city’s law took effect, and December, officers issued 60 verbal warnings and 10 citations, Cannon said.
University Heights’ law went live in April. Officers gave warnings for the first two months and through December had issued 18 tickets. Police Chief Steve Hammett said the law helps keep streets safer for both motorists and pedestrians.
South Euclid officers gave 231 tickets last year, while officers in North Royalton gave 142 tickets and 187 warnings.
In Brooklyn, where the law has been on the books since March 1999, officers are writing the most citations, at 378 tickets last year.