COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - People who text or fiddle with other hand-held electronic devices while driving anywhere in Ohio will be breaking the law beginning Friday.
That's when Ohio's statewide texting ban for drivers goes into effect, but police and state troopers will issue just warnings - instead of $150 tickets - for the first six months.
Teen drivers must especially take heed: While texting behind the wheel will be a secondary offense for adults - meaning they have to be pulled over for speeding or some other offense before they can get a ticket for texting - it will be a primary offense for those 18 and under, so they can be more easily ticketed.
A law taking effect today prohibits Ohio drivers from using hand-held electronic devices while on the move.
The law, which was passed by the state legislature this year, restricts juvenile drivers from using cellphones, iPods, laptops or other electronic devices. They can't make calls or browse the Web while driving.
"We believe the biggest impact will be in the public awareness that this is now against the law," said Jay McDonald, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, which supported the measure. "It's going to be a law that's going to be hard to enforce, but we're hoping people will now realize it's against the law, and the deterrent that comes with that will lead to a decrease in the people who do text and drive."
Ohio becomes the 39th state in the country to ban texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Many Ohio cities already have their own texting-while-driving bans, and the state law won't trump those ordinances if they are tougher.
The measure does allow all drivers to text and use their cellphones in cases of an emergency and when the vehicle is stopped and off the road.
Other exemptions include using a hand-held device for navigational purposes. Hands-free devices are allowed, but they can't be manipulated while driving. Adults can still talk on the telephone while driving, but juveniles can't.
Ebony Johnson, 35, of Cincinnati, said she was aware that the law was going into effect and thinks it's a good one.
"I don't text while I am driving," the mother of seven said. "I have babies, and you never can be sure what other drivers are going to do. You have to stay alert all the time."
The law makes texting while driving a misdemeanor, with possible fines of $150. Minors can be fined $150 for the first offense and have their license suspended for 60 days. Repeat teen offenders can be fined $300 and have their license taken away for a year.
The Ohio FOP would have preferred that texting be a primary offense for all drivers - not just teens - because it would have been easier to enforce. Still, the group likes it because it gives officers an avenue to investigate whether texting has played a role in a traffic accident.
State Rep. Rex Damschroder, one of the sponsors of the bill, said he plans to introduce legislation in the future that makes texting while driving a primary offense for adults, too, not just juveniles.
Mary Allen, 38, of Cincinnati, said she thinks the same restrictions should apply to adults.
"Adults can make the same mistakes as kids, if they are texting and driving," she said.