Now is the time to pass tougher distracted driving law, here’s how you can help
Now that our completely fraud free election is over, the members of the Ohio General Assembly have left the campaign trail and are now in Columbus conducting a “lame duck” session. I do not want to be an alarmist, but if past performance is any indicator of future results, we should all be very, very afraid.
Because for the next two months Capital Square in Columbus will be a nesting ground for lame duck legislators who were defeated at the polls, are being forced out of office by term limits, have switched to the House from the Senate and vice versa, or have just been reelected and will not face the voters for two years. That means there are now 132 people running around the Statehouse who are totally unaccountable for whatever it is they decide to do.
As you might imagine, the opportunity to engage in mischief and mayhem is nearly unlimited. And, as history clearly demonstrates, it is an opportunity our representatives often seize by ramming unpopular or controversial laws through the legislative sausage making machine at a dizzying pace.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, the GOP majority’s lame duck agenda which consists of bills that would never have seen the light of day before Ohioans went to the polls, is truly frightening and disturbing. Rest assured; I will have more to say about that in the weeks ahead. But today, I want to shine a spotlight on a positive development that occurred during the first week of lame duck: the overwhelming passage of HB 283 which prohibits, in most circumstances, a person from using, holding, or physically supporting with any part of the person’s body any electronic wireless communications device (EWCD—what used to be commonly referred to as cell phones).
Along with stiffening penalties for distracted driving, HB 283 makes violating the law a primary offense, which means law enforcement may now stop and ticket distracted drivers before they cross over three lanes of traffic and hit a telephone pole, blow through a red light and cause a multi-car collision, or run down pedestrians or cyclists on the side of the road. That is why we and other warriors in the battle to end distracted driving enthusiastically supported the legislation when it was introduced in February of 2021.
Since then, Allstate, Nationwide, the American Property and Casualty Insurance Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Highway Patrol, General Motors, the National Transportation Safety Board, the AAA, the Ohio Trucking Association, and more than 20 other groups and individuals including Douglas and Cathy Richeson, Sharon Montgomery, and Dom Tiberi all of whom lost loved ones in distracted driving crashes, have testified in favor of the bill.
Yet, despite broad-based support from the business community and the compelling testimony of grieving families HB 283 languished in the House Criminal Justice Committee for more than a year because Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, one of the most powerful Republicans in the House, was opposed to it. As a result, hundreds of Ohioans continued to be involved, hurt, and/or killed in accidents that never should have happened.
This week Seitz finally agreed to free the bill from committee after adding amendments proponents would only have accepted during lame duck. Seitz effectively blackmailed them into capitulating because he knew backers of the bill did not want to begin the fight anew when the next session of the General Assembly convenes in 2023.
Although Seitz succeeded in weaking the legislation, it will make Ohio the 31st state in the nation to ban the use of EWCDs while driving and make violations a primary offense. The law represents an important first step toward making Ohio a safer place to drive, walk, and bike.
But it is a step we will take only if HB 283 passes the Senate.
And that’s a bid if. Senate President Matt Huffman who is arguably the most powerful Republican in Ohio, opposes the legislation on “civil liberty” grounds. I guess he believes distracted drivers should continue to have the civil liberty to drive around killing and maiming their fellow Ohioans.
Huffman did say, however, that he will allow the legislation to come to a floor vote if there is a “groundswell of support for it” among the members of his caucus, two of whom Sandra O’Brien and Michael Rulli represent the Valley. So here is an assignment for all of you who would like to help the BKM legal team save some lives: Call or email them both and ask them to ask Sen. Huffman to bring HB 283 to the floor.
You may reach Sen. O’Brien by phone at (614) 466-7182 or by email at https://ohiosenate.gov/senators/obrien/contact. Call Sen. Rulli l at (614) 466-8285 or shoot him an email at https://ohiosenate.gov/senators/rulli/contact
Thanks in advance for your help, getting this important bill passed will give us all something to be extremely grateful for this holiday season and for years to come.