Distracted driving bill clears Ohio House

The Ohio House passed an amended version of a distracted driving bill Wednesday afternoon that makes texting and driving a primary offense.

The measure fell short of its original intent requiring hands-free use only of a cellphone by drivers.

As previously reported by The Center Square, House Bill 283, which now moves to the Senate, was amended in committee Tuesday to allow phone usage while stopped at a stop light or if the driver holds the phone directly to their ear.

Despite the changes, Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, said the changes will make Ohio a safer place to drive.

“Every day we travel on our roadways, we see someone looking at their phone, swerving around,” Abrams said. “House Bill 283 will make our state a safer place to travel and reduce the amount of deaths and injuries on our roads. I am grateful to our colleagues for recognizing the importance of this issue.”

Along with making texting and driving a primary offense, the bill would also implement a “single swipe” policy and would not allowing people to hold and look at electronic wireless communication devices.

The bill still must clear the Senate and be signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, who has long supported a hands-free law in the state.

DeWine called for the law nearly three years ago and supported a previous version introduced in early 2020.

"The use of wireless devices while driving has become so common that many drivers don't stop to consider the deadly consequences," DeWine said at the time. "Although Ohio's current laws are well-intended, they simply haven't gone far enough to change the culture around using technology behind the wheel. By strengthening Ohio's laws, we believe we can change behaviors, prevent crashes, and save lives."

The House also passed legislation that sponsors say would close a teacher background check loophole and require schools to file a report when a teacher under investigation resigns after a threat of being fired or nonrenewal of a contract.

Last year, an Ohio school district had five teachers resign and one retire while under investigation into alleged inappropriate behavior involving pictures and text messages about a student. Closing the loophole would mandate all six teachers be treated the same and reported to the ODE, said Rep. Adam Miller, D-Columbus.

“Closing the background check retirement loophole will protect students, parents and school districts,” Miller said. “A teacher who retires while under investigation would still have all their rights under law, but other districts would have a clearer picture of the circumstances and can make the best, most informed decision on hiring that teacher. Right now, districts, schools and parents can be left in the dark.”

The Senate also met Wednesday, unanimously passing a bill that allows tax deductions for contributions for 520 college savings plans in other states.

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