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Ohio lawmakers agree on hands-free driving in more ways than one

March 10, 2021
Don Jones News

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ohio — Last month, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine made a push for harsher punishments for distracted drivers.

While he proposed it as a part of the transportation budget, Ohio lawmakers had a different idea.

Thus far in 2021, there have been more than 2,000 distracted driving crashes in the state, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Locally too?

“In some parts we do. It depends where you are driving, what time you are driving,” Steubenville City Manager Jim Mavromatis said. “I can tell you right now, I’ve witnessed this personally, myself, on Lovers Lane. They go left of center, I use my horn, and you find out they are using their phone.”

Many officials agree that something needs done, but how is up for debate.

In Ohio, texting and driving is banned, but it is a secondary law, meaning an officer cannot stop a driver unless they break another law, too.

The governor’s proposal for Hands-Free Ohio was aiming to change that, but it was included in the transportation budget – a no-no in they eyes of many of the state’s lawmakers.

"We all want to have the conversation about distracted driving,” Representative Don Jones said. “It is a real issue in every county in Ohio, but that budget is not a place to put that type of a bill.”

Representative Ron Ferguson explained one of the reasons why.

"I sponsored an amendment to pull it out of the budget for a few reasons. One, it is a bad idea to put something with criminal penalties in a budget bill because you are jamming it through, instead of giving it the due diligence and hearing both sides in the argument. Plus, if you ever want to revise it, it’s a lot harder if it’s stuck in a transportation budget.”

While it is no longer part of the budget, the issue of distracted driving is expected to still be discussed in the future. One of the issues that could be brought up is fairness.

How do lawmakers ensure certain groups are not being picked out?

“That is one of the reasons we don’t want to include this in the transportation budget,” Jones said. “We want to have the conversation.”

So what’s next?

“A lot of this has to be education within the schools or classrooms when you are going through Drivers Ed, making sure there is certain accountability,” Ferguson said.