Last year, OIA joined a broad coalition of stakeholders (including many of our carrier partners) to advocate for laws that encourage safe driving habits for all motorists sharing Ohio’s roads and highways. While the coalition, known as FOR Ohio, was originally formed to advocate for much needed transportation funding, it is now supporting the efforts of the DeWine Administration to curb distracted driving by passing a hands-free law in Ohio. Unfortunately, legislation failed in pass in the last General Assembly, and thus this issue was included as a key provision in the state’s transportation budget (House Bill 74). OIA testified in support of this measure on Feb. 18th. However, last week, the House Finance Committee voted to remove those provisions from the transportation budget, which would have made handling a hand-held electronic device while driving a primary offense in Ohio.
Despite this setback, Gov. DeWine and his administration remain committed to enacting hands-free legislation. Going forward we expect this issue to be dealt with in a stand-alone piece of legislation and anticipate it being introduced in the Ohio House within the coming weeks. We’re also encouraged by the significant amount of support the Hands-Free Ohio provisions received in committee as well as the bipartisan support we’re seeing from legislators.
Ohio drivers are also largely in favor of enacting a law to make distracted driving a primary offense. A recent statewide poll commissioned by the FOR Ohio Coalition found that 78% of Ohio drivers favor a hands-free law that prohibits holding a phone to talk or text while driving, and 88% said they would obey the law. The results also show distracted driving is the top concern among Ohio drivers – more so than driving under the influence. In fact, 75% said distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.
Our current laws against distracted driving are not only outdated, but quite frankly, they are inadequate. This is demonstrated by the fact that fatalities in Ohio have been rising since 2014 – even though our vehicles are getting safer. In fact, provisional data indicates that last year was the deadliest year of the past decade for traffic fatalities in Ohio.
Ohio, Nebraska, Missouri, and Montana are the only states without primary enforcement laws for adult drivers using wireless devices for text-based communications or for any purpose. Notably, states with primary, hands-free laws have seen reductions in traffic deaths. Of the 14 states that enacted these laws before 2018, 11 saw a decrease in their traffic fatality rates within two years after passing and enforcing new laws (data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
Finally, and most importantly, distracted drivers don’t just endanger themselves – they endanger other people. With this in mind, it is paramount that we do all we can to stop this dangerous behavior that is harming Ohioans at an alarming rate.
Your Help Needed
If you have any experiences that you can share about how distracted driving has negatively impacted you or a client, please contact OIA’s Government Affairs Manager Carolyn Mangas.