LEGISLATIVE

OHIO ENACTS DISTRACTED DRIVING LAW

Since the early days of motorcycling, riders have rightfully complained that car drivers don’t see them.  Frustrated and infuriated by the lack of respect on the road, Motorcycle Rights Organizations across the country began lobbying for and passing laws that added fines and penalties for inattentive drivers who cause accidents resulting in injury or death.  So-called “R-O-W” laws to punish careless or distracted drivers who carelessly violate our Right-of-Way have cropped up in numerous states nationwide, with Oregon being the most recent state to enact such a law last June, spearheaded by the Oregon Confederation of Clubs.

When “distracted driving” entered the national consciousness more than a decade ago, the problem was mainly people who made calls or sent texts from their cell phones.  Innovations since then, such as car Wi-Fi and a host of new apps, have led to a boom in internet usage in vehicles that safety experts now say is contributing to a surge in highway deaths.  After steady declines over the last four decades, highway fatalities have increased to the highest levels in years, and distracted driving has been cited as the main culprit.  The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that distracted driving has led to the biggest spike in traffic deaths in 50 years!

Now, distracted driving is about to become a costlier offense on Ohio roads, as effective October 29, 2018, new regulations and penalties went into effect pertaining to what constitutes "distracted driving."  House Bill 95 broadens the description of driving distracted beyond using telecommunications or other hand-held electronic devices while driving.  Officers now can cite drivers observed to be engaged in any "activity that is not necessary for the vehicle's operation and that impairs, or reasonably would be expected to impair, the driver's ability to drive safely," according to the legislation.

The bill defines “distracted” as:

- Using a handheld electronic wireless communications device - including phones, tablets and computers - except when it is on speakerphone or otherwise hands-free.

- Any activity “that is not necessary to the operation of a vehicle” and could or does impair the driver.

Governor John Kasich signed the legislation July 30 to make distracted driving a secondary offense in the state.  So, if you’re pulled over for speeding or another moving violation, and found to be driving while distracted, the new law enhances the fine by an additional $100 or completion of a distracted-driving safety course.  A person can only be cited for “distracted driving” if the law enforcement officer witnesses the offense while the moving violation is occurring, according to the bill.

Texting while driving has already been a secondary offense in Ohio since 2012, but HB95, which passed the legislature with bipartisan support, applies to distracted driving in all its forms, from putting on makeup to changing the radio station.  Similar laws are already on the books in Connecticut, Maine, Washington state, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

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