Home Politics Distracted drivers may have to refocus if new regulations are passed

Distracted drivers may have to refocus if new regulations are passed

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A proposed bill could redefine distracted driving and create new strategies to prevent it in the future.

House Bill 86, first proposed to the Ohio House on February 25 by Rep. Cheryl Grossman, R-Grove City, would outlaw any action that would impair a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle, as well as any use of an electronic wireless communications device. If passed, the bill would also create a driver education fund in the state treasury.

The proposed definition of distracted driving is more broad than the current law.  Although a new version of the Ohio Revised Code, which goes into effect today, provides details on what qualifies as texting while driving and ways in which someone can use a “handheld electronic wireless communications device” without being charged with a minor misdemeanor, Grossman’s proposed bill would add additional regulations to this part of the law.

One way HB 86 would change driving regulations is by making more distracting activities illegal for drivers. Additionally, a distracted driver would also have to pay a $100 fine for causing an accident while being distracted, in addition to the penalty they would already have to pay for the moving violation itself. Every subsequent offense would result in a $300 fine. If HB 86 were to pass, the fines for distracted driving would be twice as much as the maximum amount currently allowed by the Ohio Revised Code, and the jail or prison sentence would be twice as long as the maximum time permitted. All money collected from these fines would go directly toward a fund for driver safety programs.

Although the overall number of car accidents in Ohio has decreased in recent years, drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 — the main demographic that would benefit from a driver education fund — still made up the largest percentage, 8.7 percent, of people who were in error in accidents as of 2013, according to the most recent Ohio Department of Public Safety publication summarizing crash statistics. Those in favor of legislation to require more education for future drivers hope that it will lead to a decrease in these numbers.

Currently, only drivers younger than 18 have to complete classroom instruction, and Ohio Department of Public Safety Director John Born believes that some people put off getting their licenses until they are 18 to avoid paying for these classes.

“What ends up happening is they become a new driver with zero skills or education,” Born told the House Finance Committee. “We want to provide them with an avenue to get the driver education that they need.”

This same report shows that drivers in “apparently normal” condition, including those who are not physically impaired, overly emotional, sick, asleep, fatigued or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, accounted for about 94.8 percent of total drivers involved in crashes in 2013, while 2.7 percent of crashes were alcohol-related. In other words, a large majority of accidents were caused not by the condition of the driver, but by some external factor that changed the driver’s ability to drive safely.

HB 86 is not the only recent attempt to fix problems caused by distracted driving. The Ohio House of Representatives removed parts of a provision in Gov. John Kasich’s transportation budget earlier this March that would have increased penalties for distracted driving and training requirements for new drivers.

The provision, called the Drive Toward a Safer Ohio initiative, was stripped by the House from the $7 billion transportation budget proposal before it was sent to the Ohio Senate, although the House intends to reconsider it separately in the future.

Karhlton Moore, the executive director of the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services, believes the initiative will still eventually be passed even if as a separate piece of legislation.

“The initiative takes a balanced approach in improving overall traffic safety,” Moore said. “It incorporates research and experience and takes into account the current state of Ohio traffic laws and the perspective of consumers.”

Drive Toward a Safer Ohio would require drivers to complete more classroom instruction before being able to get a driver’s license and would regulate the training and testing systems already in place.

“We believe the initiative is one of the most comprehensive efforts in our state’s history focused on improving driver safety,” Moore said.

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