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Ohio lawmakers to consider distracted driving bill in House

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Melissa Mjoen
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Driver holding cell phone

Ohio lawmakers are expected to hold a committee vote Tuesday on a bill that would prohibit a driver from holding their phone while behind the wheel.

The bill would ban the use of an electronic wireless communication device, or EWCD, while driving and make it a primary offense — allowing law enforcement to pull a driver over if they observe the device in the driver’s hand.

Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) told lawmakers during a committee hearing that a violation comes with a stiff fine that would continue to increase after multiple offenses.

“Offenders will be required to pay a fine of $150, or they may elect to go to a distracted driving course instead of paying the first fine,” said Abrams.

A second offense within two years of the first offense would result in a $250 fine. It would be no more than a $500 fine if there is another offense within two years of the two violations.

Abrams and Rep. Brian Lampton (R-Beavercreek) are co-sponsors of the bill. They said polling shows that distracted driving is the number one concern among motorists on the roads and that a hands-free law would reduce injuries and death.

“The goal is to ensure the safety of all of us that are using our roadways and give us all more, and better, peace of mind,” Lampton said during a House Criminal Justice Committee hearing. “What we need to do is just change the culture, okay? We need to make it unpopular to look at your phone and text and drive.”

The bill has gone through several changes over the course of nearly a year and a half in the House committee.

A first violation no longer takes points off a driver’s license if they attend the distracted driving course, a law enforcement officer can only cite someone if they see the driver holding their phone, and a device can be used if drivers are at a full stop on the road due to a road closure.

Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) has expressed concern over the bill, especially the provision regarding the use of a device when the vehicle is not moving.

“What we had requested was a complete elimination of the ridiculous provision of this bill that prohibits you from using an EWCD if you are stopped in traffic, at a stoplight, due to our traffic accident, et cetera.” Seitz said when an amendment to the bill was proposed. “So, this amendment begs the question of what is an emergency or road closure and how would that be proven? And it falls far short of what is necessary in order to make this bill remotely salvageable.”

The bill is scheduled to get a vote in House Criminal Justice Committee and could receive a full House vote in session this week. If passed, the bill would then go to the Ohio Senate.

Contact Andy at achow@statehousenews.org.