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Stricter texting while driving law in Ohio is proposed

Special to the Legal News

Published: November 4, 2014

Rep. Rex Damschroder has set his sights on restoring the original aim of Ohio’s texting-while-driving ban.

“Two years ago, the Ohio House of Representatives took the proactive step of making texting while driving a primary offense,” he said. “The Ohio Senate watered it down and chose to make it a secondary offense.”

Gov. John Kasich signed that measure, House Bill 99, which was jointly sponsored by Damschroder, R-Fremont, and former Rep. Nancy Garland, D-New Albany, into law in 2012.

In an effort to bring back the original intent of HB 99, Damschroder introduced House Bill 637 into the legislature last week.

The new measure would make texting while driving a primary offense and ban the use of electronic devices in active school and construction zones.

“This bill will restore the primary offense provisions, giving our law enforcement officials a needed tool to combat the growing problem of distracted drivers,” Damschroder said.

“HB 637 will take the necessary steps to improve the safety of the motoring public on Ohio’s roads.”

The proposed legislation would repeal a section of state law that prohibits law enforcement officers from stopping a motorist for the sole purpose of determining whether the driver was texting.

“Ohio is no different than the other states around the country and they’ve all seen increases in traffic accidents due to distracted driving,” Damschroder said, adding that a recent study by the American Journal of Health shows that states with primary offense laws have experienced a 3 percent reduction in traffic fatalities.

“We need to add Ohio to the majority of states in the nation that classify texting while driving as a primary offense.”

HB 637 goes on to state that no person shall use an electronic wireless communications device in any manner while operating a motor vehicle in either of the following circumstances: on any street or highway in a school zone as defined in Ohio law during school recess and while children are going to or leaving school during the opening or closing hours; or in a construction zone as defined in state law during hours of actual work within the construction zone.

“These active zones require an elevated level of concentration when behind the wheel,” Damschroder said.

“Much like Ohio law doesn’t allow drivers under age 18 to use their cellphones or other devices while driving, these provisions would eliminate those distractions in school and construction areas for all drivers.”

Damschroder said the zone restrictions would be easy to enforce.

“If a police officer or highway patrolman sees someone on their phone in these zones, the motorist could be pulled over and cited,” he said.

For purposes of the bill, an “electronic wireless communications device” includes a wireless telephone, a personal digital assistant, a computer, including a laptop computer and tablet, a text-messaging device and any other substantially similar electronic wireless device designed or used to communicate via voice, image or written word.

A violation of the proposed school and construction zone restrictions would be a minor misdemeanor.

The bill states that a prosecution for a violation of the restrictions would not preclude a prosecution for a violation of a substantially equivalent municipal ordinance based on the same conduct.

“However, if an offender is convicted of or pleads guilty to a violation of (the proposed) section and is also convicted of or pleads guilty to a violation of a substantially equivalent municipal ordinance based on the same conduct, the two offenses are allied offenses of similar import under section 2941.25 of the Revised Code,” the measure reads.

The zone restrictions would not apply to the holder of a temporary instruction permit who is under 18 years old or the holder of a probationary driver’s license.

HB 637 also provides exemptions for individuals using an electronic wireless communications device for emergency purposes, including an emergency contact with a law enforcement agency, hospital or health care provider, fire department or other similar emergency agency or entity.

Also, motorists who are in stationary vehicles or outside a lane of travel and individuals using a navigation device in a voice-operated or hands-free manner would be exempt.

“It is my hope that the House and especially the Senate will recognize the importance of this bill and pass it by the end of the year,” Damschroder said.

HB 637 is co-sponsored by Reps. Heather Bishoff, Nick Barborak, Rick Perales, Matt Lundy, Timothy Derickson and Michael Sheehy.

The bill is awaiting a committee assignment.

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