Distracted driving bill should be tougher critics say

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A new distracted driving bill pending before lawmakers in Ohio is being criticized for not being tough enough.

Critics of the bill, which was introduced by Republican Sens. Jim Hughes of Columbus and Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, believe that distracted driving should be a primary offense rather than a secondary offense.  That means that drivers who are found to be distracted by electronic devices or other activities could be pulled over by law enforcement officers without the presence of a moving violation.  Currently, officers can only stop the vehicle of a distracted driver when they observe a traffic violation.

Sharon Montgomery was one of the individuals who testified before the Criminal Justice Committee.  Mrs. Montgomery’s husband was killed in 2000 in an accident caused by a driver who was talking on a cellphone.  Mrs. Montgomery believes that driving while distracted by electronic devices should be a primary offense.  She also asked the legislative committee to enact harsher penalties for distractions caused by hands-free devices as well.

The proposed bill carries enhanced penalties for distracted driving.  Andy Bowsher, legislative liaison for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, praised that portion of the bill.  He compared penalizing distracted drivers to the penalties of drivers who are charged with speeding in construction zones.  He stated that the law would allow “fair, uniform enforcement” for all drivers and that it would provide educational opportunities.

A representative of the Ohio Conference of AAA Clubs, who also expressed his opinion that texting while driving should be made a primary offense, stated that he supported the bill.

Two similar bills are currently in the process of committee hearings – House Bills 88 and 86.