COLUMBUS — Ohio laws focused on keeping drivers’ eyes on the road and off their phones do not go far enough, according to Gov. Mike DeWine.
The governor wants handling a handheld wireless device a primary offense for adult drivers, allowing law enforcement to make stops for using devices. He also wants penalties to be the same as drunk driving.
“Ohio’s current laws don’t go far enough to change the culture around distracted driving, and people are dying because of it,” DeWine said. “Distracted driving is a choice that must be as culturally unacceptable as drunk driving is today, and strengthening our current laws will lead to more responsible driving.”
The changes are included in DeWine’s executive budget, which is before the House. It contained other public safety and criminal justice projects, such as $10 million to outfit law enforcement agencies with body cameras and $4.6 million for the Ohio School Safety Center to help with new schools registering with the Safer Ohio School Safety Tip Line.
DeWine pointed to data provided by the Ohio State Highway Patrol that showed 2020 was the deadliest year on Ohio’s roads in more than a decade with 1,236 people killed in traffic crashes. Troopers said more than 100,000 distracted driving crashes have occurred in the state since 2013.
“Every time you pick up your phone while driving you are putting your life and the lives of others in danger,” said Col. Richard Fambro, the Ohio State Patrol superintendent. “When you take your eyes off the road – even for just a few seconds – the consequences can be devastating.”
DeWine’s plan, which includes a six-month warning period, would make it illegal to write, send or read texts, watch or record videos, take or look at photos, live-stream, use apps, type information into GPS, dial phone numbers or hold a device for a phone call.
Currently, those things are primary offenses for drivers under 18 years old. Using a device for texting is a secondary offense for adults, which does not allow officers to make stops for violations. There are no laws in Ohio that prohibit using devices for nontexting actions.
To become law, DeWine’s plan must pass the state General Assembly, which failed to act on a similar proposal DeWine wanted last year.