(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced today the formation of a permanent Distracted Driving Advisory Council that will develop a longstanding plan to change the culture surrounding distracted driving in Ohio.
“Driving while texting, or eating, or dialing a phone should be as culturally unacceptable as drunk driving is today,” said Governor DeWine. “When drivers choose to do anything that distracts them from paying full attention to the road, they choose to risk their own lives, the lives of their passengers, and the lives of everyone else around them. Now is the time to create a long-term, comprehensive plan that educates drivers, promotes changes in behavior, and strengthens Ohio’s distracted driving laws.”
The creation of Governor DeWine’s Distracted Driving Advisory Council follows the release of a report issued today by the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force, which was formed by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) in 2018 to examine the scope of the distracted driving problem in Ohio and make suggestions on reducing traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities. The report recommends changes in state policy, changes to Ohio law, and enhanced distracted driving education for young drivers.
In response to the report, Governor DeWine has asked the Ohio Department of Administrative Services to enhance the driving policy for state employees, which currently only prohibits texting while driving fleet cars but does not reference other types of distracted driving. Governor DeWine also directed DPS to update its Digest of Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws to reflect current distracted driving statutes.
According to the task force’s report, Ohioans age 16-20 had the highest number of distracted driving crashes between 2013-2017, followed by drivers between the ages of 21-25.
The new advisory council will work with DPS to determine how to enhance distracted driving education in Ohio’s driver training curriculum. ODOT is also partnering with The Ohio State University’s Risk Institute to study messaging proven to be effective in changing driver perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors.
According to ODOT data, nearly 80,000 distracted driving crashes occurred in Ohio between 2013-2018. More than 3,000 people suffered serious injuries in distracted driving crashes, and 268 people were killed during the same period. Because drivers don’t always admit to distracted driving, the actual number of distracted driving crashes, injuries, and deaths is believed to be significantly higher.
Overall, traffic fatalities have increased in Ohio in four of the past five years, with smart phone distractions believed to be a contributing factor. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that engaging in visual-manual tasks, such as reaching for a phone, dialing, or texting with a handheld or portable device tripled the risk of a crash.
Ohio law bans the use of any electronic wireless communications devices for drivers under 18. Texting while driving is illegal for all drivers but is a secondary offense for drivers 18 and above.
Members of Governor DeWine’s Distracted Driving Advisory Council will be announced in the upcoming days.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.