CLEVELAND - Cleveland City Council is one step closer to enacting a stricter law against drivers using a cell phone while driving within city limits.
"This is not about the city of Cleveland making more money," said Councilman Zack Reed of Ward 2, who sponsored the bill. "These cell phones are becoming more and more dangerous."
The council's legislative committee passed Reed's bill Monday, which calls for drivers to only make hands-free calls and not put the cell phone to their ear to talk. It goes to the finance committee later in the month for approval.
"There's no reason in the world as technology continues to evolve for you to hold that cell phone in your hand to make a phone call or to be talking on the cell phone," Reed said.
If the bill passes, drivers would be required to talk using Bluetooth, speakerphone or other technology.
At Monday's meeting, council members cited statistics as reason to press forward with the measure.
Between 2009 and 2011, Cuyahoga County had 7,087 distracted driving crashes, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. That's more than Franklin, Hamilton and Lucas counties combined during the same time period, which include the metro areas of Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo respectively.
"We've never had a cell phone ordinance that actually makes this a primary offense," said Marty Frank, director of public safety for the city.
As the bill stands, a police officer could pull a driver over for no other reason other than for talking on the phone without a hands-free device. The minimum fine would be $100.
"It brings awareness, but I don't think they're going to see the crash rates go down like they're thinking it will do," said Dan Cox, CEO of the Cleveland-area Heights Driving Schools.
Cox, who's taught driver's education for the past 28 years, said instead of new laws, technology is needed to block any text messages and phone calls from coming through while driving.
"The temptation has to be taken away. The phone has to be turned off," Cox said.
Police, fire, EMS and other safety workers would be exempt from the law while on the job. Bicyclists would also be exempt.
Once city council passes the law, it would take effect 30 days later.