In the part of the city designated as Zone 4, Columbus police are running a targeted enforcement blitz against distracted driving. Six officers and a Sergeant are dedicated to the cause through the month of September.
Zone 4 covers the north-central and northwest parts of the city, including the area around Ohio State's campus, Clintonville, north and south Linden and areas bordering Upper Arlington, and Worthington.
Columbus Police Officer Keith Conner is one of those officers and for him, distracted driving has become his mission. Over the past two years and three months, he has written 605 citations and issued more than 3,000 warnings for distracted driving.
“People are now just driving with their head down which is just ridiculous,” Conner said.
Conner says the issue got personal a couple of years ago.
“An elderly gentleman using a flip phone and texting actually ran me off the roadway into a COTA bus stop,” Conner said.
Now he sees violators every day and it has become his passion.
“I caught a woman this morning driving for two blocks without any hands on the steering wheel so she could get a text off,” Conner said. “These things can wait.”
In Ohio, state law says texting while driving is a secondary offense for drivers 18 and older. That means someone would have to be pulled over for another traffic violation before additionally being charged with texting while driving.
But Columbus and some other municipalities in Ohio have local laws making texting while driving a primary offense.
The Columbus law says:
No person shall operate a vehicle while using a mobile communication device to 1) Compose, send or read a text message; or 2) Send, read, create, play or interact with internet-based content.
Micah Sargent was surprised when an officer tapped on her window while she was stopped at a traffic light.
“I just checked my phone really quick,” Sargent said. “My boss had sent me something.”
She says she had deliberately waited until coming to a stop before looking at her phone.
“I thought that would be the best option rather than obviously checking it while I’m moving,” said Sargent.
Officer Conner says it’s one of the most common reactions from drivers who get pulled over.
“No - the law clearly states you have to be off the roadway and you have to be in park,” Conner says. “It’s not ok at a light.”
Conner says he has issued citations to people watching movies, shopping, even watching pornography on their phones while behind the wheel. He says of the last 100 citations he’s issued, 39 percent were on Facebook.
“Five out of the 6 people I stopped yesterday actually apologized to us and said, I’m actually embarrassed that I’m doing this,” Conner said.
In the first two weeks of the Zone 4 blitz, officers have stopped about 300 cars and issued 170 citations.
The fine for distracted driving citation in Columbus is $192.