National report finds Ohio lagging in traffic safety laws

By: - January 24, 2020 12:30 am

Source: Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

As Ohio looks at more potential distracted driving legislation, a new study says the state needs to do more to help protect drivers. 

The policy alliance Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety released a nationwide report on the state of safety laws in each state, and came up with recommendations for laws that need to be included in the policies of each state. Ohio ranked among the lowest in number of safety laws with only five. The report gave a low rating if a state had less than seven safety laws. 

Also noted by the group was the absence of primary enforcement seat belt laws in Ohio. Primary enforcement means law enforcement can pull someone over for that specific offense, rather than adding it on to another more legally significant offense, like reckless driving.

State Rep. Mary Lightbody, D-Westerville, is also trying to change the primary enforcement laws in Ohio, specifically for distracted driving and the use of electronic devices. 

“People have been calling into my office telling tales of what they’ve seen while… family members were out on the roads, previous experiences they’ve had personally in terms of accidents and even loss of life in their family,” Lightbody said. “And they’re all heartbroken and really want to make sure that we’re keeping the roads as safe as possible.”

Lightbody introduced her bill this month as a revision to 2018’s House Bill 95. The previous General Assembly passed that legislation to enhance the penalty for distracted driving, but only “if the distraction is a contributing factor to the commission of the violation,” according to the language of the bill. 

An all-driver text messaging restriction was one of the recommendations the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety report set out for Ohio, along with a graduated driver license that includes stronger nighttime restrictions, a minimum age of 16 to obtain a learner’s permit and a minimum age of 18 for an unrestricted license. 

Other laws Ohio lacks that the report said are necessary are booster seat laws, ignition interlocks that require drivers to test their impairment before a car will start, and an all-rider motorcycle helmet law.

According to numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Ohio saw more than 1,000 traffic fatalities in 2018, and nearly 11,000 deaths in the last ten years due to motor vehicle crashes. The administration calculated an annual economic cost from these crashes at $10.125 billion.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.