COLUMBUS (WCMH) — You’ve probably seen it firsthand; the driver in the lane next to you staring down at their phone instead of the road ahead of them.
Here in Ohio, law enforcement cannot pull them over unless they are under the age of 18 for distracted driving, without the driver first committing another moving violation.
Governor Mike DeWine wants that to change so he is teaming up with two State Senators to introduce a bill at the Ohio Statehouse that would make using an electronic device while driving a primary offense; and allow law enforcement to pull them over immediately instead of waiting to see if they commit another violation.
According to DeWine, fatalities on Ohio roadways have gone up in 5 of the last 6 years with 2019 being the second deadliest of the last decade.
He says the culture of Ohio drivers needs to change.
State Senators Stephanie Kunze (Hilliard-R) and Sean O’Brien (Bazetta-D) will be sponsoring the bipartisan piece of legislation.
If the bill passes, drivers would violate the law if while driving they:
Hold their phone; look at or send Texts or Emails; look at Social Media, Videos, Livestreams, Pictures, or Images; Livestream; use Apps; Manually Dial their Phone; Manipulate their GPS Destinations.
Drivers could still use the GPS on their phones but they would have to input their destination before driving and if they do need to change their destination they would be required to pull over and come to a complete stop before doing so.
The first violation would result in a fine of $150. The second violation increases the penalty to $250. The third and subsequent offenses the penalty goes up to $500 or more.
If you are in an accident where someone is severely injured or killed, and it is determined you were distracted at the time by a wireless device, the penalties mirror those for drunk driving.
If you severely injure someone, you would be charged with aggravated vehicular assault. Depending on your driving history you could be facing 1-5 years in jail for a Felony in the third degree or 2-8 years for a felony in the second degree.
If you kill someone, you would be charged with aggravated vehicular homicide; which carries a 2-8 years for a felony in the second degree, or 3-11 years for a felony in the first degree.
Some cities in Ohio already have passed ordinances that allow police to pull drivers over for distracted driving because of a phone or handheld device.
Worthington’s ordinance was passed back in 2010. The first time a ticket written for it was 2012.
Since then 21 citations have been given, with a portion of them needing to be proven in court.
Proving the violation may end up being the most difficult part of this new law.
“We have to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt if we go to court that the offense did in fact happen and we have to have some kind of evidence of that,” said Lt. Stephen Mette of the Worthington Police Department.
While that is not impossible, it is not exactly easy to do according to Mette.
“We have been able to successfully prosecute some of those cases but the burden can become very difficult when we’re trying to operate a motor vehicle, record somebody who may be using a mobile communication device and do all of that safely,” said Mette.
Their most recent citation was issued in October 2019.
Over in Gahanna, Lt. Ethan Moffett has been on patrol for his entire career. He says over that time he has seen more and more people driving distracted.
Their biggest hurdle is not being able to immediately pull the person over, despite the danger they pose to other drivers around them. This bill could change that.
“That could have a direct correlation in improving roadway safety,” said Moffett.
Moffett says, right now they prefer to educate the driver and not necessarily hand out tickets unless they feel they have to because the message isn’t getting through to the driver.
If DeWine’s bill were to pass as it is now, it would carry a six-month warning period that would go into effect 90 days after the bill is signed by the governor when it becomes law.