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Distracted driving

New Ohio law brings extra penalty

CHAD PLAUCHE-ADKINS The Marietta Times Marietta Police Patrolman Bob Ellenwood watches for speeders and distracted drivers on Tuesday in Marietta.

A person driving on the highway is using a map application to get to their destination. They look down at their phone for just a few seconds to see how far it is to their next turn.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), that person traveled the distance of a football field without even looking at the road. For 100 yards they are unable to react to any potential problem that occurred around them.

On Monday, Ohio House Bill 95 became law in an effort to deter people from driving distracted on Ohio’s roadways. The law, which was co-sponsored by Jim Hughes, R-Upper Arlington, and Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, makes distracted driving a secondary offense that can result in the offender paying a $100 fine.

According to the NHTSA, distracted driving is more than just using a cell phone or an electronic device. It can include eating and drinking, changing the radio station and talking to other passengers in the car. It’s anything that takes a driver’s attention away from the task of driving.

“We pull over a lot of people for distracted driving,” said Sgt. Eric Knowlton of the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Marietta Post. “Several people a day, actually.”

Knowlton said before the law went into effect, officers could only ticket for the moving violation committed while making a note in the citation about distracted driving. The final determination whether or not the driver was distracted was left to the courts. Now they can ticket the driver for being distracted as well as for the offense they committed.

“We make the determination if they were distracted with an interview at the scene,” he said.

Patrolman Bob Ellenwood of the Marietta Police Department said the old law didn’t keep people from driving distracted.

“It was very hard to prove,” he said. “The whole point is to make people safe.”

Ellenwood said drivers not focusing on the task at hand is a constant problem.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve pulled up next to people and they don’t even notice me because they are too busy looking down at their phones,” he said

According to the law, in lieu of paying the fine and receiving points on their licence, violators who are found or admit to being guilty may take an online course offered by the Ohio Department of Public Safety. The hour-long course teaches students about the hazards of distracted driving and how to avoid them.

Some are residents said they support tougher laws for drivers.

“The cell phones are the biggest things,” said Vivian Cline, 49, of Newport. “People who use them cut you off, ride your bumper, they are just a pain.”

Cline said she thinks the people who are usually blamed aren’t the only culprits.

“It’s not just the teens,” she said. “It’s the older people as well.”

Doug Ritchie, 70, of Williamstown said he believes stricter laws are necessary to help stop the problem of distracted driving.

“Since I’ve been driving I’ve felt threatened by a drunk driver once. I’ve felt threatened by distracted drivers at least 30 times,” he said. “It may not be as dangerous, but it happens a lot more often.”

Distracted driving statistics:

•3,450 people were killed in the U.S. due to distracted driving in 2016.

•391,000 people were injured in the U.S. due to distracted driving in 2015.

•The national average for people visibly manipulating hand held devices was 2.2 percent of all drivers in 2015. The rate among 16 to 24 year olds was higher at 4.4 percent during the same period.

•8,396 of the automobile accidents caused by distracted drivers in Ohio were because of “other inside vehicle” in 2016 (e.g., passengers, food and drinks).

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

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