With the rise of handheld electronic devices, distracted driving is becoming a bigger and bigger issue on roads and highways throughout Ohio. And state lawmakers are taking action to make our roads safer.
House Bill 95, currently under consideration by the Ohio Transportation and Public Safety Committee, would toughen penalties for moving violations while distracted. Specifically, the law would allow police officers to cite motorists for "distracted driving" if their use of an electronic device or other distracting behavior is part of another traffic offense, such as speeding or a marked lane violation. The penalties for distracted driving would be comparable to the penalties for motorists caught speeding in road work zones.
Significantly, the new law would expand the current laws to include all types of distracted driving, not just texting while driving. Under current laws, enforcement is often undermined because it is difficult to prove that a driver was texting instead of, dialing the phone to call someone, which is legal in Ohio.
However, the proposed legislation would leave texting while driving or other distracted driving as a secondary offense for adult drivers, not a primary offense, according to an article on the bill in The Repository. That means officers cannot pull drivers over purely on suspicion of distracted driving;. Rather, the law can only be enforced when a motorist is pulled over for another traffic offense.
According to lawmakers cited in the Repository article, the votes aren't yet there to make distracted driving a primary offense.
Distracted driving is a serious danger on roads throughout Ohio
Texting while driving and other forms of distracted driving represent a massive safety issue on roads throughout Ohio. In 2016, distracted driving was a contributing factor in nearly 14,000 car crashes statewide, according to the Repository article. And those crashes led to more than two dozen fatalities and nearly 7,300 injuries.
Moreover, the overall trend appears to be moving upward, with a 5 percent increase last year in distracted driving accidents following an increase of 11 percent between 2014 and 2015.
Motorists who choose to drive while distracted are a danger to themselves as well as others on the road. There are three major forms of distraction behind the wheel:
- Physical distraction: The driver's hands are not physically on the wheel.
- Visual distraction: The driver's eyes are not on the roadway.
- Cognitive distraction: The driver's mind is not focused on the task of safely operating the vehicle.
Texting and driving is particularly dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction. But even using a hands-free device may not be much safer because of the cognitive distraction element. The truth is that operating a vehicle safely, at any speed, is a demanding task that requires the operator's full attention at all times.
More legislative action is absolutely needed to make our roads safer and reduce the prevalence of distracted driving, and our law firm applauds the efforts of state lawmakers to take a necessary step in that direction. Because when distracted drivers cause crashes that lead to significant injuries, they need to be held accountable for their actions.