Columbus officials differ on what to do about texting while driving

benw@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 10, 2009 

With the city of LaGrange set to consider a ban on text messaging while driving, Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington and other city leaders agree the practice is dangerous and may need some action.

“I think it’s very dangerous for folks to be texting while driving. Telephones are bad enough,” said Wetherington, who worked as a motorcycle patrol officer for years with the Columbus Police Department where he retired as chief of police after 36 years of service.

Wetherington and some members of Columbus Council agree the practice is a concern. The community and state lawmakers may have to deal with the problem to make a difference, they said.

“There may be something we need to look at,” Wetherington said Wednesday. “There is no question it’s very dangerous.”

While driving on the streets, the mayor said he has seen people text messaging, looking up at the road and down to punch in a message. “I’m terrified when I see texting,” said Wetherington, who uses a cell phone but doesn’t text.

Councilor Glenn Davis hasn’t heard any complaints from people in District 2 but realizes the topic has garnered much news media attention. “It’s dangerous, even talking on a cell phone,” Davis said. “You’ve got to be aware of what’s going on around you. I hope adults would be responsible and be aware of the dangers.”

To control texting while behind the wheel, Davis said he would like to see the state get involved with those efforts before local officials consider it.

“Young kids are where you have to educate them,” said Davis, who uses a cell phone. “From a reaction standpoint, the first step is to start educating before you start slapping a misdemeanor on them.”

If there is a move to ban text messaging, Councilor C.E. “Red” McDaniel agrees it should be a statewide effort.

While he doesn’t have a cell phone, he agrees with the mayor about the dangers or sending text messages while driving. “When you talk on the phone you are distracted, you can hit somebody in the rear or on a bicycle or whatever,” he said.

Councilor Wayne Anthony of District 9 said the city needs to look at what’s being done on the national, state and local level.

“If data supports the fact that it is the most distracting thing for a driver then perhaps we may start with the state legislature and start looking at texting,” said Anthony, who uses a cell phone.

Councilor Julius Hunter of District 3 said he is aware that surveys show the chances of an accident are higher if you are using a cell phone. “They are even higher if you are trying to text,” said Hunter, a cell phone user. “I can see the community taking a look at that.”

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