A Democratic Ohio House member introduced legislation Tuesday that would make using cell phones while driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcement would be able to pull over drivers they observe using them.
Currently, this is a secondary offense, meaning the driver would have to be pulled over for a separate offense before being dinged for distracted driving.
State Rep. Mary Lightbody, D-Westerville, introduced the legislation she said is intended to increase safety on Ohio roadways by making it a primary offense to use handheld electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle.
“The number of drivers I see using their smartphones while driving continues to concern me, especially as they tend to drive erratically. This legislation will address the significant danger caused by drivers who drive under the influence of their electronic devices,” Lightbody said in a release.
Last week, the Capital Journal reported on a number of measures Ohio lawmakers are considering to address traffic safety. Since 2014 there has been an average of one distracted driving crash in Ohio every 40 minutes. Vehicles themselves are safer than ever, yet the number of crashes remain high. The number of crash deaths in Ohio went up in 2019, the fourth increase in the past five years.
Lightbody said she was approached more than a year ago by a constituent, Sharon Montgomery of Gahanna, Ohio, whose life was changed when she was in a tragic car accident caused by a distracted driver.
Montgomery has since become an expert on the issue, and served on Gov. Mike DeWine’s recent Task Force on Distracted Driving, the release said. She worked with Lightbody’s office to help develop this proposed legislation, it said.
“More and more drivers are focused on electronic devices instead of traffic and vehicle operation, which puts us all at risk,” said Montgomery. “Rep. Lightbody’s legislation will reduce that risk, and I am relieved that with her leadership, Ohio would join 37 other states that filed bills to make their roads safer by outlawing handheld devices.”
According to the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force, 58 people were killed, 493 were seriously injured and over 7,000 were injured in nearly 14,000 distracted driving accidents in 2017. However, the task force also states that distracted driving is underreported because it is difficult to prove unless an officer sees it or the driver admits to it.
The bill has not yet been assigned to a House committee, where it would be eligible for public hearings.