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Distracted drivers remain a danger

We all have a lot on our minds these days, but one place where we cannot afford to be distracted is behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

That is why we are pleased that Gov. Mike DeWine introduced the “Hands-Free Ohio” provision in his executive budget proposal to help strengthen distracted driving laws. Currently, handling electronic devices while driving is a secondary offense for adults in Ohio — in other words, an adult driver must commit some other traffic infraction in order to be pulled over and cited for sending text messages or watching videos on a cellphone. Such behavior is only a primary offense when committed by drivers under 18 years of age.

DeWine’s proposal would change all of that. It would make handling any electronic wireless device while driving a primary offense for adults and juveniles alike. It also would increase fines for drivers who make a habit of using electronic devices while behind the wheel. Those are steps that seem necessary if you consider the data.

According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, more than 100,000 distracted driving crashes have occurred in the Buckeye State since 2013. More than 53,000 injuries resulted from those collisions.

DeWine’s provision would prohibit the following while driving: Writing, sending or reading texts; watching or recording videos; taking photos or looking at images; live streaming; using apps; entering information into GPS navigation programs; dialing phone numbers; and holding a device for a phone call. Using handheld wireless devices for emergency calls or while in a stationary vehicle outside the lane of traffic would be exempt, along with using a device in hands-free mode for a call or to dictate or listen to text messages. Actions that can be accomplished with a single swipe would be permitted, as would duties of public safety or utility professionals, as well as using a wireless feature that is a permanent part of the vehicle. GPS device navigation would be permitted if destinations are entered prior to beginning the trip.

Ohio is one of only four states without primary enforcement laws for adults. In West Virginia, using a handheld cellphone while driving has been a primary traffic offense since 2013. It is high time the Buckeye State followed suit. Lawmakers should approve the provision.

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