Under Governor DeWine, the conversation around distracted driving has grown both in and around the Statehouse. Legislators, policymakers, and community members are voicing concern over the devastating impact of distracted driving on the safety of all Ohioans. However, the dangers of distracted driving are nothing new. In 2017, the Dayton Daily News published an article outlining an uptick in distracted driving related fatalities. Cell phone use is often cited as a common form of distracted driving, but research shows simply using voice controls or tuning the radio can create a sense of “tunnel vision” and reduce drivers focus on the road.
In 2018, the Ohio Department of Public Safety and the Ohio Department of Transportation formed the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force to investigate the dangers of distracted driving, and the extent to which it impacts Ohio drivers. The task force was comprised of law enforcement officials, researchers, advocates, and state officials. Researchers found distracted driving to be the cause of at least 80,000 automobile crashes over the past 5 years. This number is considered an underestimate, as many drivers never admit engaging in distracted driving. Additionally, the task force found persons age 16 to 20 to have the highest risk of death or serious injury.
The task force released a final report recommending policy changes, harsher penalties, and educational initiatives in hopes of reducing traffic crashes and fatalities related to distracted driving. The task force recommended changes be made to state law to reclassify distracted driving a primary offense. Due to distracted driving’s secondary offense status, law enforcement must witness a driver commit other illegal activities before they canbe pulled over. Additionally, the secondary offense is vaguely defined, making drivers less likely to follow it and police less likely to enforce it. As a primary offense, drivers could be pulled over and ticked for engaging in distracted driving alone. This would cover a range of distractions including electronic device use, eating, putting on makeup, and allowing pets on the driver’s lap. The Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force hopes that with increased fines and point violations, Ohioans will be incentivized to put down their phones and focus on the road. Governor DeWine provided a copyof the report to every member of the Ohio General Assembly. He hopes it sparks discussion amongst lawmakers on how they can make their roads safer.
The Risk Institute at The Ohio State University is also dedicated to researching and ultimately reducing incidents of distracted driving in the state of Ohio. The Risk Institute hosted Governor DeWine and interested parties during Distracted Driving Awareness Month to discuss steps towards eradicating distracted driving. The Risk Institute is looking beyond law changes towards possible new technology and urban planning to reduce distracted driving fatalities. Among the speakers at this event was an advocate who has a personal connection to the dangers of distracted driving. Dom Tiberi, a prominent Columbus TV anchor, lost his 21-year-old daughter to a distracted driving related fatality in 2013, and spoke to the grave impact distracted driving can have on the family.
While changes to state laws surrounding distracted driving will require action from the legislature, Governor DeWine is wasting no time in urging the Department of Administrative Services to enhance distracted driving restrictions on drivers of state-owned vehicles. Additionally, in late April of 2019, GovernorDeWine unveiled his Distracted Driving Advisory Council. The permanent council’s primary goal will be to enhance distracted driving education across the state. They will partner with the Ohio State Risk Institute and the Department of Education to identify changes in current driver training curriculum. Though Ohio lawmakers have remained relatively quiet on the issue, it is likely we will see legislation following the Governor’s push to address distracted driving.