Gahanna increases penalties for distracted driving

GAHANNA, Ohio (WCMH) – The city of Gahanna is cracking down on distracted driving. A city ordinance went into effect on April 3.

It’s similar to state law, however, Gahanna’s recently amended code goes further to penalize those that text while driving.

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Leaders said it’s all about keeping their residents safe. Looking at your phone while behind the wheel can cause serious harm to you and another person.

“In 2000, my husband died because somebody was talking on the phone,” said Sharon Montgomery.

Sharon and her husband, John, spent the day with their son who was in college at the time. They were celebrating John’s birthday. What was supposed to be a fun day, turned into a nightmare on the way home.

“My husband never made it out of ICU. I had life threatening complications from my injuries,” she said.

Since that day Sharon took her grief and turned it into action.

“My first advocacy effort was to stop calling it an accident because it was a crash. Almost all crashes are not accidents. They’re preventable. They’re a result of somebody’s bad decision,” she said.

The city of Gahanna’s amended ordinance went into effect April 3 of this year. It’s similar to state law but it goes further to penalize repeat offenders with an escalating misdemeanor.

Under state law, first and repeated offenses can result in only a fine, however in Gahanna, those found guilty can be punished with community service and jail time, in addition to a fine.

A first offense for texting while driving is now a minor misdemeanor in Gahanna, it’ll carry a maximum penalty of a $150 fine and 30 hours of community service. A second offense in Gahanna, within two years, is now a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and carries a maximum penalty of $250 fine, 30 days in jail and 200 hours of community service. A third offense, within two years, is now a third-degree misdemeanor, it carries a maximum penalty of $500 fine, 60 days in jail and 200 hours of community service.

Also, those who are found to be driving distracted while causing injury to another individual will be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor. Drivers who cause the death of another while texting and driving, will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re starting to maybe turn the corner and see less distracted driving behavior,” said Lt. Ethan Moffitt with Gahanna Police, “This is something that still needs to have a lot of attention. And, you know, we intend to, you know, take a very careful look at here and keep promoting this message so that we make our local roadway safe.”

Lt. Moffitt says that driving distracted is similar to driving impaired.

“We’ve all become, you know, over time, very aware of the dangers of driving while impaired. There’s been a lot of effort put into that. And I think you’re seeing an analogy now with distracted driving,” he said.

Sharon tells NBC4 that texting while driving is just not worth it. That’s why it’s so important for her to share her story.

“When I can talk to people one on one and through this kind of opportunity, people hear the, you know, the emotional impact of what really happens. Then people start to think about it more often.” she said.

To help strengthen their message, city leaders recognized April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The city has been promoting its “Drive Safe Gahanna” message. That includes handing out decals for drivers to place on their car. The decals are available at Gahanna City Hall.

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