Dem wants drivers to keep their eyes on the road

State Rep. Mary Lightbody, D-Westerville, speaks at an event in the Statehouse. Photo from Ohio House website.

It wasn’t that long ago, Rep. Mary Lightbody pointed out to her colleagues, that cell phones had one basic use ⁠— for calling people.

The Westerville Democrat showed them her old flip phone for emphasis. No apps, no autocorrect, just phone calls and a T9 texting service about as convenient as using carrier pigeons.

Things have changed. Lightbody then showed the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee her new smart phone. It’s a much better phone, she said, but advancements in technology have brought about more opportunities to distract Ohio drivers. 

Lightbody told of a farmer killed when the tractor he was riding was struck by another driver who was shopping on their cell phone. 

This led her to introduce House Bill 468, co-sponsored by seven other Democrats. The point, Lightbody said, is simple: to make sure Ohioans keep their hands on the wheel, their eyes on the road and their minds focused on driving.

HB 468 would change traffic enforcement to make use of a cell phone while driving a primary offense for all Ohio drivers.

Current state law identifies distracted driving as a secondary offense for drivers who are 18 years or older. This means adults can only be pulled over for distracted driving if they have also committed another traffic offense such as speeding.

While there are some communities such as Columbus and Westerville that have made distracted driving a primary offense, Lightbody hopes her bill will mandate this change across the state. 

The bill would prohibit drivers from texting, viewing any “internet-based content,” playing any game, or using any phone app. 

There are several exceptions provided, namely for drivers to briefly use their phones to place or answer a phone call. Using a device for navigation purposes would also still be allowed, along with using phones during any emergency. 

The bill also exempts law enforcement officers and other public safety workers. 

Phones and other electronic devices could still be used via voice-operated/hands-free technology. 

Offenders could be charged with a minor misdemeanor with a fine of up to $150. Lightbody noted that these fines can be waived by a judge or mitigated by an offender taking a distracted driving safety course.

The Capital Journal polled readers on social media to learn their thoughts on making distracted driving a primary traffic offense. As of Tuesday afternoon, opinion was split: with 46% of respondents saying this law should pass and 54% saying it shouldn’t be passed. 

Lightbody’s bill follows several others introduced in the 133rd General Assembly meant to address transportation safety. House Bill 51 is such an example and would require center line rumble strips on Ohio’s undivided highways. The bill has already passed the Ohio House and awaits action by the Ohio Senate.

Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.