Ohio bill would allow traffic stops for texting and driving

Gov. Mike DeWine says Ohio should make texting while driving a primary offense, which would allow police to pull over drivers without first witnessing another traffic violation.

“We’re losing a lot of people in Ohio who are being killed by distracted drivers,” the governor said Tuesday, adding that the problem is under estimated because the state relies heavily on drivers to self-report that they were distracted when an accident occurred. “It really is a question of life and death. It’s the right thing to do. It’s a high priority for me. We’re going to continue to ask the Legislature to do this and I think they’re going to do that.”

On Tuesday, a Democrat from suburban Columbus introduced a bill that would make it a primary offense to use a “handheld electronic device” such as a smart phone while operating a motor vehicle.

“This legislation will address the significant danger caused by drivers who drive under the influence of their electronic devices,” said state Rep. Mary Lightbody.

A 2012 Ohio law prohibits drivers younger than 18 from using electronic wireless communication devices while driving. Texting while driving is illegal for all drivers but it’s a secondary offense, which means police can only pull the driver over for another infraction such as speeding. Nearly four in 10 drivers admit to looking at their phones even occasionally, according to a AAA survey.

RELATED: Eye in the Sky: Ohio Highway Patrol tracking distracted driving from above

Thirty-seven other states have banned driving while using handheld devices or are considering doing so, according to Lightbody’s office.

Distracted driving, which includes texting, talking on the phone or other behaviors, was a factor in 13,727 crashes in Ohio in 2018. Fifty-one people died in those accidents and 6,860 people were injured, the patrol statistics show.

Distracted driving crashes in 2018 in local counties totaled: 613 in Montgomery, 423 in Butler, 268 in Warren, 226 in Greene, 168 in Clark, 110 in Miami and 55 in Champaign.

In April, DeWine called on lawmakers to make it a primary offense for adult drivers, saying distracted driving should be as culturally unacceptable as drunken driving.

RELATED: Distracted driving led to nearly 80,000 crashes since 2013

Previous legislative efforts to make texting while driving a primary offense have failed to gain traction in the Ohio General Assembly.

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