Lawmakers held the first hearing on House Bill 468 Tuesday, legislation that would make distracted driving a statewide primary offense.
Using a cellular device while driving currently is a secondary offense in Ohio, meaning police must witness another offense before pulling over a driver.
Representative Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville) said the purpose of the bill is to keep Ohioans safe.
“What we’re doing is making it a primary offense to be using your handheld electronic device while you’re driving, other than just in a very few ways,” said Lightbody, who represents Ohio District 19, including part of Franklin County.
“The whole goal of this is to keep people safe on the highway, including nearby pedestrians,” said Lightbody. “If you can engage with your device wirelessly, without touching your device, that is allowed. You cannot engage or interact with a game or view Netflix.”
Lightbody said use of navigational apps would be acceptable, as long as the device was not being held in the driver’s hand.
“You can dial and receive a phone call, but you cannot conduct the call with the device in your hand,” said Lightbody. “The conversation has to be wireless or through speaker phone.”
The bill is in the Transportation and Public Safety Committee.
The legislator said it is already a primary offense in some cities and municipalities in Ohio to use a cellular device while driving, including Columbus, Bexley and Westerville.
Auto insurance companies and law enforcement support the bill, she said.
Lightbody said that police officers detect use of phones by watching the behavior of drivers.
“Anyone who is driving erratically, they can approach and look to see what the driver is doing,” said the legislator. “There’s a police officer in Columbus who has been very active in enforcing Columbus’s primary offense law. He looks for an activity called head bobbing. He holds his body cam up to the window, so he’s documenting that this person is using their call phone.”
In response to those that feel the law would be too far-reaching, Lightbody said, “There are laws that govern how we drive, like stopping at a stop sign or staying within the speed limit. This would be one of those laws. The whole point is to keep everyone safe including the drivers of those cars, passengers and nearby pedestrians.”
Governor Mike DeWine previously stated that he supports making distracted driving a primary offense in order to curtail the number of deaths and crashes caused by inattentive drivers.
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