Gov. DeWine wants stronger penalties for distracted driving in Ohio

Distracted driving led to nearly 80,000 crashes in Ohio since 2013.

Ohio needs more driver education, stiffer penalties and stronger laws to address distracted driving — behavior that led to nearly 80,000 crashes on Ohio roads since 2013, state officials said Thursday.

Dialing the phone, texting, eating, putting on make up or other distracted driving activities should be “as culturally unacceptable as drunk driving,” said Gov. Mike DeWine.

“Although mobile phones were first used simply for phone calls or to send and receive texts, law enforcement officers now see motorists who are web browsing, shopping, accessing social media and streaming videos while driving,” the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force reported Thursday.

DeWine said he will ask Ohio lawmakers to make distracted driving a primary offense, allowing police to pull over motorists without witnessing any other infraction. Currently it is a secondary offense for adults and a primary offense for minors.

The task force also called for legislators to enact one hands-free law for all drivers, make it apply to use of all electronics including tablets, smart watches and phones, and increase fines and points for violating the law.

“Distracted driving is a danger to everyone using the road,” said Ohio Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Fambro, who said informing families of the death of a loved one is the most difficult job he has faced in his 29-year career.

In 2018, 52 people died and 508 were seriously injured as a result of a distracted driving crashes. There were 13,867 total distracted driving crashes in 2018, up more than 15 percent from 11,979 in 2013 that caused 45 deaths and 499 serious injuries in 2013, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Nearly four in 10 drivers admit to looking at their phones even occasionally, according to a AAA survey.

Related: Police targeting distracted driving as crashes increase

Ohio leaders have been trying to reverse the trend for years. In October, lawmakers extended the definition of distracted to include any activity that is not necessary for the vehicle’s operation and that impairs the driver’s ability to drive safely. Eating, handing things, children in the back seat, changing the radio station or using a cell phone could all result in a ticket.

The citation comes with a $100 fine, which some motorists can avoid by taking a distracted driving class instead.

Related: Teen drivers would face more time, training before getting license

Related: Ohio Highway Patrol video shows drunk driving over a 24-hour period

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