COLUMBUS, Ohio — Drivers who hit Ohio roads with mattresses, ladders or whatever else on top of their cars or in the beds of their trucks — and don't strap them down securely — could soon face tougher penalties and bigger fines. In a unanimous vote Tuesday morning, the House Criminal Justice Committee approved House Bill 27 to head to the floor for a vote.
HB27 was inspired by News 5 investigations on the dangers of road debris. The original investigation first aired in February 2020 and was viewed during hearings before the House Criminal Justice Committee where House Bill 27 would toughen penalties for failing to properly secure vehicle loads.
The reports included retired Chief Investigator Ron Regan's experience as a victim of road debris that left him with a broken back and months of rehabilitation.
"All of my most important bills I've done in my time in Columbus generally have been propelled because of somebody's story or somebody's problem, somebody's issues," HB27 sponsor State Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville) said in an interview with News 5. "I'm just sorry it was Ron having to go through such a tragic accident."
But thousands of others across Ohio have had similar experiences.
News 5 found 2,791 unsecured load violations contributing to 6,797 crashes between 2016 and 2021 — killing six and injuring 715 others. Even so, Ohio is among the laxest in the nation when it comes to fines and penalties for unsecured loads.
Currently, fines are fixed at no more than $150 with no jail time — a minor misdemeanor.
The bill would boost criminal penalties by providing fines punishable by $500 and increasing to $2,500, including a jail term of up to 60 days if there is physical harm to a person or property.
"Like in a lot of things, it generally takes something significant to happen to bring it to the attention," Patton said. "I think this was a circumstance where we saw an incident that happened, that the revised code clearly didn't answer sufficiently.
"So the purpose of the bill is to bring us to 2022, and this is the modern-day. Maybe years ago, $75 was a bigger number than it is today. But regardless, this is a law, especially with the possible misdemeanor charge, that we think is going to be important for the driving public."
To give the bill more of a chance to pass, lawmakers made sure it will not impact commercial drivers, since their fines on a federal level may be much higher than what is proposed for Ohio.
The representative hopes the bill will make it to the House for a full vote in the next few weeks.