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Ohio lawmakers propose bill to crack down on cell phone use while driving

Tyler Buchanan, Ohio Capital Journal

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Ohio lawmakers are proposing stricter rules against cell phone use while driving, with a goal of cracking down on distracted driving in the state.

Legislation from state Reps. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, and Brian Lampton, R-Beavercreek, would prohibit using electronic devices while driving in most circumstances. Law enforcement could ticket drivers for even holding their phones while driving.

This is the latest effort to strengthen distracted driving laws in Ohio, which has seen a rise in related crashes over the past decade. The State Highway Patrol reported more than 66,000 crashes between 2016 and 2020 that involved a distracted driver. This has led to 212 traffic fatalities over that five-year span.

“It’s time for Ohio to join the other hands-free states so we can change the culture of distracted driving,” said Jennifer Smith, whose advocacy group StopDistractions.org has endorsed passage of this legislation.

Ohio law already prohibits texting while driving, though there are exceptions made for dialing phone numbers and using navigational programs. These traffic violations are secondary offenses for adult drivers — texting while driving cannot be the sole cause for a traffic stop.

House Bill 283 proposes stricter enforcement in a number of ways. Most notably, the bill would make distracted driving a primary offense for all Ohio drivers.

The bill would outlaw the use of phones, tablets and other electronic devices. Along with not texting, drivers would not be allowed to use their devices to watch or record videos, place orders or use any other program that isn’t hands-free.

In sum, if a phone or device is in the driver’s hand, the person would be in violation.

“We use (phones) for too much and too many of us do this while driving,” Smith noted.

There would remain exceptions for calling emergency services and “single swipe” actions such as answering a phone call.

Drivers would still be allowed to use navigational programs, so long as they aren’t holding the phone. (A driver would need to pull over before typing in any new directions.)

First-time offenders could choose to attend a distracted driving safety course in lieu of a $150 fine.

The bill would also require law enforcement agencies to track the race of all individuals cited for distracted driving offenses. The Ohio attorney general would be responsible for compiling this statewide data to see if the law is being enforced disproportionately against certain races.

The legislation has received initial support from Fix Our Roads Ohio, a coalition of governmental, business and transportation groups calling for improving roadway safety through increased spending and stricter distracted driving laws.

In a news conference expressing support for the proposals, FOR Ohio advocates detailed the need for enacting and enforcing these anti-distracted driving rules.

Cherie Hanna, whose daughter Kendall was killed in a 2014 crash in Florida, spoke out in favor of the bill. Kendall died in a single-car crash caused by cell phone use while at the wheel.

“The hardest thing in the world was burying my child and I can’t give up on other peoples’ children and their families today,” Hanna said, calling it her mission to be her “daughter’s voice” to prevent future tragedies.

Gov. Mike DeWine has been pushing for stricter enforcement for several years, saying that society should view distracted driving “as culturally unacceptable” as drunk driving.


This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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