As of 2019, 96% of American adults owned a cell phone, with 81% utilizing smartphones that can be used for emails, web browsing, and other apps, according to the Pew Research Center. Americans are becoming increasingly tied to these devices and in fact, some studies say that the average smartphone user will check or interact with their device 63 times per day. These advances in technology have revolutionized the way most Americans communicate, work, travel, shop, and engage in numerous other tasks on a daily basis. Unfortunately, however, they too often affect how people behave while driving as well.
According to data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, at any given daylight moment there are an estimated 660,000 drivers talking on hand-held phones on American roadways. 48% of drivers acknowledged talking on their phones while driving at least some of the time, while 14% reported sending emails or texting while operating a vehicle (https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving). These are, of course, terrifying statistics, given the well-documented dangers associated with distracted driving. After all, a car traveling at 55 miles per hour will move more than 80 feet should a driver take his or her eyes off the road for just a single second.
Currently, under Revised Code Sections 4511.205, the use of electronic wireless devices while driving is prohibited for drivers under the age of 18 unless it is for emergency purposes. As for adult drivers, Section 4511.204 makes texting while driving a minor misdemeanor subject to a $150 fine, but it is considered a “secondary offense” in that a driver can not be pulled over or cited for engaging in this dangerous activity unless another moving violation has occurred.
Over the past year, there have been two efforts to strengthen Ohio laws discouraging distracted driving caused by cell phone usage. The “Hands-Free Ohio Bill,” also referred to as Senate Bill 285, was first introduced in the General Assembly in early 2020 but did not pass prior to the end of the legislative session (https://governor.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/governor/media/news-and-media/governor-dewine-announces-hands-free-ohio-bill). This bill would have made the use of cell phones on the roadway a primary offense for all drivers, would also increase penalties for injuries and deaths caused by this kind of distracted driving to be similar to those for drunk driving, and would also provide for increased penalties for repeat offenders. A renewed effort last month by Governor Dewine’s office to fold similar language into the annual transportation budget bill was removed in Committee, although many have stated that there may be support at this time to pass these laws as a stand-alone bill at a later time (https://www.statenews.org/post/ohio-lawmakers-change-key-parts-governors-transportation-budget).It is clear that this legislation would be a step in the right direction to address an ever-increasing danger for Ohio drivers and pedestrians. As traffic fatalities have risen considerably over the past decade, we at Rourke & Blumenthal fully support these efforts to help encourage safe behavior on Ohio’s roadways.