For those unfamiliar with the law concerning distracted driving here in Ohio, namely texting while driving, it classifies this conduct as a secondary offense for adult drivers. This means that law enforcement can only issue a citation after having pulled someone over for a primary offense like speeding.
The law takes a decidedly tougher stance toward teen drivers, however, prohibiting them from using any handheld electronic device behind the wheel, and punishing scofflaws with fines and a 60-day license suspension for first offenses and a yearlong license suspension for subsequent offenses.
Statistics show that since these texting laws took effect back in early 2013, over 1,600 people have been cited by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
While this might seem like a large number, consider that the State Patrol initiated over 1.4 million contacts with motorists in 2016 alone, writing more than 357,000 speeding tickets and 115,541 seatbelt tickets.
Given this rather startling disparity and the continuing toll taken by distracted drivers, a measure has emerged in the House of Representatives -- House Bill 95 -- that would strengthen the law to a considerable degree.
What would HB 95 do exactly?
At its core, HB 95 would permit law enforcement officials in the Buckeye State to cite motorists for "distracted driving" in connection with other traffic violations. This enhanced penalty would be akin to the law already in place allowing enhanced penalties for those motorists caught speeding in construction zones.
It's important to understand, however, that the bill falls short of classifying distracted driving as a primary offense.
Is a measure like HB 95 necessary?
According to statistics from the State Patrol, almost 14,000 people were involved in crashes caused by distracted driving in 2016, resulting in 7,300 injuries and over two dozen fatalities. Indeed, the agency has found that distracted driver reports have increased by 11 percent since 2014-2015.
Given discouraging figures like these, the need for measures like HB 95 becomes apparent.
Does HB 95 stand any chance of passing?
It remains to be seen how receptive state lawmakers will be to HB 95. One of its co-sponsors, Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus), indicates that while there is a clear lack of support for making distracted driving or texting while driving a primary offense as of the moment, his fellow politicians might be receptive to the middle ground taken by the measure.
Stay tuned for updates …
If you've been seriously injured or lost a loved one due to the actions of a negligent motorist, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can help you pursue justice and peace of mind.