COLUMBUS (AP) — Distracted driving should be reason enough to pull someone over in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine said Friday as he promised a legislative proposal soon to upgrade the offense.
DeWine also said it’s time for a cultural recognition that distracted driving is just as bad as driving while drunk. Currently, distracted driving — including texting, making calls or surfing the internet while driving — is considered a secondary offense for drivers over 18, meaning police must have another reason to pull someone over.
“Smart phones have turned a lot of people into really dumb drivers,” DeWine said at a news conference promoting safe driving over the holidays. DeWine said he hoped to have a proposal to make distracted driving a primary offense the Legislature soon.
Deaths caused by traffic crashes in 2019 have increased over the 2018 number, making this one of the decade’s deadliest years for driving in Ohio, the governor said. To date, 1,119 people have died, compared to 1,068 for all of last year.
More than 91,000 distracted driving crashes have happened in Ohio since 2013, injuring more than 47,000 and killing 305 people. These accidents happen even as cars are becoming much safer, DeWine said.
DeWine, Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks, and Col. Richard Fambro, urged motorists to put their phones down this holiday season. Distracted drivers were involved in more than 1,100 crashes between Christmas and New Year’s the last five years, the patrol said.
One of those crashes killed Delma Ross, 73, who died on Christmas Eve 2017 in Licking County in central Ohio. The driver of the car that hit Ross was under the influence and also acknowledged texting right before the crash, said Terry Dawson, Ross’ son-in-law.
“Christmas is not a very joyful event for us anymore,” Dawson said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates over 3,000 people in the U.S. died as a result of distracted driving in 2017.