May 27, 2015

Each time you take your focus off the road, even if just for a split second, you’re putting your life and the lives of others in danger. Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that is only continuing to grow.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has had a long history of working closely with local agencies and the state to ensure that our residents are safe while traveling. MORPC’s safety program staff actively analyzes crash data. From those results, we can better understand why crashes occur and how certain populations, behaviors and locations are more susceptible to a deadly auto accident. Distracted driving is one of those behaviors that is rapidly increasing the incidence of deaths and injuries on our roads.

Ohio already banned texting while driving in 2012. The law made texting while driving a secondary offense for adults and a primary offense for minors. Therefore, law enforcement can pull over a minor on the sole suspicion of texting while driving, while they cannot with adults.  The new law has led to 114 secondary offense citations this year, according to the State Highway Patrol. Additionally, 13 citations have been issued to underage drivers.

Recently, two bills have been introduced at the Statehouse, one by State Senator Jim Hughes (SB 146) and the other by State Representative Cheryl Grossman (HB 86). Both bills would enhance the penalties for certain driving violations while the driver was distracted. MORPC applauds both legislators for their efforts in making our roads and neighborhoods a safer place to travel.  We urge their colleagues to support both pieces of legislation.

Passing legislation at the Statehouse is imperative in reducing distracted driving related accidents, however that is only one way to curb distracted driving. In order to fundamentally change people’s behavior we cannot simply regulate; we must also educate.

Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage of Grove City has several efforts underway that address this growing concern – the  most visible being Grove City’s Distracted and Impaired Driving simulator. 

“The simulator is mounted in a trailer which we take to area schools and public events to bring awareness to educate drivers on the dangers of distracted driving,” Stage said. “It is critical to educate people about the grave consequences of distracted driving because you may get a second chance with the simulator, but you don’t get one when you’re out on the road.”

MORPC has long been a supporter of legislation that curbs distracted driving. In March 2010, MORPC adopted a resolution that promoted and supported legislation that reduces distracted driving. In addition, passing such legislation has been included in MORPC’s Public Policy Agenda since 2011.

SB 146 currently sits in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, while HB 86 sits in the House Armed Services, Veteran Affairs, and Public Safety Committee.