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Ohio House passes bill to make texting and driving a primary offense

Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) on the House floor in support of HB283.
Ohio House
Ohio House
Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) on the House floor in support of HB283.

The Ohio House bill to prevent distracted driving, by prohibiting a person from looking at their phone while behind the wheel, passed the chamber with a vast majority of support.

The bill, HB283, would make it a primary offense for a person to be holding their phone while driving. A law enforcement officer would have to observe the driver holding their phone before pulling them over.

Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison), a sponsor of the bill, said they heard many stories of families who lost loved ones because of distracted driving.

“It is heartbreaking to hear what these families have gone through. And we can’t sit back and allow this to happen any longer. If we want to reduce traffic-related deaths in Ohio, we need laws that encourage us to put our phones down,” said Abrams.

The bill went through several changes during the committee process. The original bill was known as a hands-free law, which would not allow a driver to be holding a phone at all.

However, an amendment was added to allow a driver to hold their phone as long as it’s up to their ear. Another amendment would allow the driver to use their phone, even text, while stopped at a stop light.

Critics of the amendments said the changes reduced the effectiveness of the bill. Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) said a hands-free bill would have prevented thousands of accidents.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the version in front of you. Despite this, this bill is still worth voting for because it is progress towards making Ohioans safer,” said Leland.

Democratic lawmakers proposed an amendment on the House floor to help fund implicit bias training for law enforcement, related to the disproportionate number of Black drivers who are pulled over.

There is already a measure in the bill that requires law enforcement to collect data on the driver that’s pulled over for holding a wireless device, which includes the driver’s race.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he’s not in favor of the bill as a “general notion,” citing other existing laws that could address the issue of distracted driving.

Huffman said they will discuss the bill and have committee hearings on it and, while he’s against the bill, he would allow it to come to a vote if there’s a “groundswell” of support for it in the Republican Senate caucus.

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