By Randy Ludlow, The Columbus Dispatch:
They stood behind Gov. Mike DeWine cradling photos of loved ones lost.
John Gordon has told “Rusty’s Story” to more than 34,000 people over more than a decade. The only father-son court bailiff team in Ohio was ripped apart when a man texting on his cellphone crossed the center line and hit Rusty’s car head-on on Route 4 south of Marion, killing him instantly.
Aimee Eckert was six months pregnant and driving on a rural road in Alabama when her car was struck head-on by a man texting on his phone. The Middletown woman spent six months in the hospital. Her unborn son, Gabriel, was buried while she lay in a coma.
WBNS-TV sports anchor Dom Tiberi was at Thursday’s event as well, his story sadly familiar. His daughter Maria was killed in a distracted-driving crash when her car struck the rear of a stopped semi on Interstate 270.
DeWine, vowing that new legislation would save lives, was joined by a pair of state senators in unveiling the Hands Free Ohio bill to make the use of handheld devices while driving a primary offense, for which officers can stop and cite motorists.
Sponsored by Sens. Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard, and Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, it would impose fines of $150 for a first offense, $250 for a second and $500 and a possible license suspension for each additional one.
Except for drivers under age 18, Ohio law allows law enforcement officers to pull over and ticket a driver for using a smartphone or other device only if the driver also commits another offense, such as speeding or swerving between lanes.
Distracted drivers who hurt or kill someone in a crash also could, like drunken drivers, be charged with felonies: aggravated vehicular assault and aggravated vehicular homicide, respectively. Distracted driving while speeding would add twice the penalty points to a driver’s record.
“In a split second, the consequences can be devastating,” State Highway Patrol Supintendent Richard Fambro said after showing dash-cam videos of a driver playing a game on a phone and another watching a football game while flying down the road.
DeWine, who admitted with regret to having talked on his phone while driving in the past, called for a change in culture to make the use of phones while driving unacceptable.
Eckert asked drivers to put down their phones and pay attention to the road. “Is your life important? How important is that text message?”
Rep. Mary Lightbody, D-Westerville, has introduced a similar bill in the House.