Belpre aligns law with state’s ban on texting while driving

BELPRE – On the recommendation of the city law director, city council unanimously approved Monday evening to follow the State of Ohio’s law against texting while driving.

“The State of Ohio has now passed a more in-depth and complicated statute regarding cell phone use in vehicles and our officers need to know whether to follow the city’s or the state’s law,” said Belpre City Law Director Tom Webster. “The question is if we want to maintain the current code of ordinance or if we want to go along with the state code.”

In May 2010, Belpre became the fourth municipality in Ohio to enact anti-texting while driving legislation, joining Columbus, Toledo and Zanesville.

The law gave the city’s police officers the right to stop people who were suspected of texting while driving. The first offense of the law was a minor misdemeanor with a fine of $150 and court costs.

The second offense in one year or the first offense with an accident causing injury will be a third-degree misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

The statewide legislation makes texting while driving a secondary offense for adults, which means they can only be cited for it after they have been stopped for other violations, such as speeding.

What makes the Ohio law more complicated than the City of Belpre’s is the treatment of teenagers, Webster said.

“I think, for the more complicated statute, we should go with the state’s,” he said.

Drivers younger than 18 caught using a portable electronic device for even talking on the phone will be charged with a primary offense, up to $300 in fines and the possible loss of their license for up to 60 days.

Voice calls for those older than 18 are still allowed.

“I think we should follow Mister Webster’s advice,” said Council President Will Neff.

Webster said council does not need to officially pass any legislation regarding the change at this time; he just needed to know what the consensus of council is.

A 2009 study of national driver distraction by the U.S. Department of Transportation found text messaging creates a crash risk “23 times worse than driving while not distracted.”

The same study concluded sending or receiving a text takes the driver’s eyes off the road for about 4.6 seconds-the equivalent of driving down a football field at 55 mph blind.

In other business:

Council passed the second of three readings of an ordinance needed to approve the plans for the city to provide natural gas aggregation. Council previously held to public hearings and will have the final reading of the legislation during the Aug. 12 council meeting.

Last August the city’s electric aggregation program began as provided by DPL Energy Resources and organized by Volunteer Energy, which is the city’s partner for the two energy-savings programs.

Although DPL Energy Resources offers the electric program to the city through Volunteer Energy, there will be no third party with the natural gas, as Volunteer Energy is the supplier of that resource.

Following the final reading, the project will go before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for approval.

The rate for the natural gas will be the New York Mercantile Exchange price plus 60 cents per 1,000 cubic foot.

In November 2011, Belpre voters passed the opt-out programs, which have the potential to save residents money if they choose to go with the city for these bills.

* Council suspended the rules and passed the second and third readings of the 2013 supplemental appropriations, which lists how much money goes into each fund in the city’s budget and what the money pays for.

This is a housekeeping item done annually to pay for streets, sewer and water plants, police department and other areas.

Now that it is passed, the itemized list will be sent to Washington County Auditor William McFarland.