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Will Ohio Enact Stronger Laws on Texting and Using Cell Phones While Driving?

An Ohio bill could make texting while driving a primary offense, making enforcement easier; the bill also would expand the state's handheld phone ban.

Texting while driving is widely recognized as a dangerous combination and it is illegal for all drivers in Ohio. Unfortunately, many drivers in Ohio still persist in this habit. Critics of the state's current law have worried that the secondary ban is too difficult for authorities to properly enforce, according to The Dayton Daily News. Now, lawmakers are considering a stronger ban that could more effectively prevent this form of distracted driving.

Bill seeks stricter policies

Under the state's current law, texting drivers can only be pulled over if they have committed another violation that is classified as a primary offense, such as red light running. This means that many drivers may avoid citations, even if law enforcement authorities clearly see them texting. To address these issues, House Bill 637 would make the following changes to the current laws on texting and cellphone use while driving:

  • Texting would become a primary offense for all drivers.
  • Using a cellphone in active construction zones would be illegal for all drivers.
  • All drivers would also be banned from using cellphones in school zones during select hours.

The general cellphone bans would represent an expansion of Ohio's current ban on handheld cellphone use, which only applies to novice drivers. Collectively, these changes could have sizable impacts on roadway safety.

Potential safety gains

Research suggests that primary texting bans might be more effective at reducing distraction-related accidents than secondary bans are. According to ABC News, a 2014 study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham concluded that primary texting bans are correlated with a decrease in traffic fatalities of about 3 percent, or an average of 19 fewer deaths per state. In contrast, secondary bans are not associated with significant reductions in fatalities.

An expanded ban on handheld cellphone use could also offer benefits. The National Safety Council has estimated that about 1 in 4 car crashes involve some form of cellphone use, and texting isn't the only problem; about 26 percent of all accidents involve cellphone use, while just 5 percent involve texting. Banning all drivers from using their cellphones while navigating challenging road stretches, such as school and construction zones, could help reduce serious distracted driving accidents.

Recourse for accident victims

Regardless of whether the bill becomes law, distracted driving may impact many Ohioans in 2015. The victims of these accidents may be entitled to compensation if they prove the at-fault driver was acting negligently. Illegal behavior, such as texting, may constitute negligence, as can behavior that is not illegal for all drivers, such as talking on a handheld cellphone. Any instance when a driver breaches the duty of care owed to other road users and causes injury may represent negligence.

Anyone who has been hurt in an accident and believes a distracted driver was responsible should think about meeting with an attorney to discuss the situation and possible legal options.


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