Statehouse bill aims to make distracted driving a primary offense


COLUMBUS, OH (WCMH)– The Ohio State Highway Patrol released a safety bulletin in April 2018. One of the first things you may notice about it is a graph the shows fewer and fewer people are holding a phone to their ear while they drive.​

However, distracted driving is no longer tied to simply making a phone call like it was two decades ago. Now, drivers are checking emails, texting, posting to social media sites, shopping for shoes, playing mobile games, and watching videos to name a few activities.​

The same document cites the CDC as describing distractions this way in part:​      

Distractions can be visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), or cognitive (taking your mind off what you’re doing).​

This week, the sponsor of a bill that would make distracted driving a primary offense and allow police officers to pull you over for no other reason than being distracted by your electronic device got a phone call that shows just how spot on that description is.​

According to State Representative Mary Lightbody (Westerville-D) a woman from Cleveland called the lawmaker’s office to tell her about why the caller’s husband was two hours late returning home recently. ​ Lightbody says, the woman explained how her husband had stopped to help a man who had been in an accident on I-71 headed north; and that when her husband walked up to the car, he figured out why the accident happened.​

“When he got to the car he discovered that the man cellphone was playing porn and the man was sitting in the seat of his car with his pants and his trousers down by his ankles,” said Lightbody.​

Visual; manual; cognitive, all the check boxes were marked. ​

Lightbody says, this isn’t an isolated incident. People have been caught watching porn while they drive in the Columbus neighborhood of Clintonville by patrol officer Zach Connor.​

Connor confirmed, he has pulled people over and found them watching porn while they drive on surface streets.​

Columbus is one of a few parts of Ohio where officers can already pull you over for distracted driving as a primary offense.​

Lightbody says since Connor has started cracking down on the activity in Clintonville, they have seen less and less of it happening because word is spreading that the police will pull you over if you do it.​

She says, that is what needs to happen statewide; Sharon Montgomery agrees.​

Nearly 20 years ago, John Montgomery was driving home on his birthday. Sharon was in the passenger seat and they were traveling on State Route 61 when a distracted driver slammed into the back of a car waiting to make a left turn.​

That car was forced into the Montgomery’s path and the resulting accident sent the vehicle tumbling. The driver of that car still suffers from the injuries they sustained that day.​

The Montgomery’s ended up in the Grant Hospital ICU in rooms across the hall from each other. Sharon recalls her son standing in the hallway between the rooms looking at his father and then back at his mother, each of them severely hurt.​

Sharon was still too injured to be with her husband when he died across the hall.​

“The worst part was, because I was so injured I was not able to be physically and emotionally there for more son as he was losing his father, and for my husband as he was losing his life; I will never get over that part of it,” said Montgomery.​

She has spent the last two decades trying to get the laws changed when it comes to distracted driving. She says it has only been the last 10 years that the needle has moved.​

In 2018 distracted driving became a secondary offense, requiring some other wrong doing to initiate being pulled over, like speeding or not wearing a seatbelt.​

She wants it to be a primary offense so police can stop people who are on their phones, not just making a call like the man who caused the accident that took her husbands life; but all of the other things smart phones afford people the opportunity to do today.​

She says, she doesn’t know why this issue hasn’t been addressed yet.​

“It surprises me and disappoints me greatly,” said Montgomery. “People are dying because of this and it’s completely preventable.”​

Lightbody is trying to get the law changed with her bill. It is not the first, nearly 30 bills have been proposed at the Statehouse in the two decades since John Montgomery died. She hopes this one will finally pass.​

“We’re talking about hands on the wheels, eyes on the road, and brains thinking about the driving. There are many ways we can be distracted,” said Lightbody. “Let’s all be safe out there on the roads.”​

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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