CLEVELAND, Ohio — Some Northeast Ohio state lawmakers believe the passage of the proposed "hands-free" law will significantly improve highway safety, and curb the high number of distracted driving crashes continue to plague Cuyahoga County.
The latest data from the Ohio State Highway Patrol shows Cuyahoga County leading the entire State of Ohio, with 3,082 distracted driving-related crashes from Jan. 1, 2019, to Sept. 16, 2021.
According to the state data, Northeast Ohio far outpaced Franklin County and Columbus with 2,757 distraction-related crashes and Hamilton County and the Cincinnati area, with 2,674 crashes during that same time period.
Portage County Rep. Gail Pavliga, Ohio House District 75, (R), told News 5 she believes House Bill 283, currently in the house criminal justice committee, will make a significant difference in curtailing the more than 32,000 distracted driving crashes that have taken place since the beginning of 2019.
It's an issue that had Pavliga riding with the Ohio Highway Patrol Aviation unit several weeks ago and tracking distracted drivers.
“it’s just amazing when you’re up there, the view our troopers in the sky have," Pavliga said. "People who are weaving, people who are distracted."
“You’re looking at someone and all of the sudden they start drifting, because they’re looking down they can’t see that car is moving to the left or the right. When you are driving, you need to be focused on the road and on your vehicle.”
House Bill 283 would make distracted driving when holding a cellphone or any other electronic device a primary offense, allowing law enforcement to pull drivers over for that violation alone.
Currently, Ohio law prohibits texting while driving, with exceptions for dialing phone numbers and using navigational programs, but again violations like texting while driving cannot be the sole cause for a traffic stop.
The proposed measure would prohibit the use of phones, tablets, and other electronic devices while driving. drivers could not text, or use their devices to watch or record videos or use a program that isn’t hands-free.
Pavliga said she's been inspired by Cherie Hanna of Columbus, who lost her 20-year-old daughter Kendall to a fatal crash on Mother's Day 2014 because her daughter was texting while driving. Hanna set up a Facebook page urging motorists not to text and drive.
“The words would not be nearly enough to ever think about what you would say to a parent, especially to a mom who has lost her child on Mothers Day,” Palviga said. “I have two children, I have a grown daughter, 29, and to get such a knock on my door would be life altering.”
“I hope that would that this bill could be something good coming out of something bad, it would be the only way that you could recoup anything in a situation like that.”
Pavliga and HB 283 sponsors Rep. Cindy Abrams, Ohio House District 29, (R) and Rep, Brian Lampton, Ohio House District 73, (R) are hoping the measure will be up for a vote before the end of the year.
Sgt. Ray Santiago, Ohio State Highway Patrol Spokesperson believes the proposed law will save lives.
“Our law as it’s currently written for distracted driving it’s a secondary offense," Santiago said. "It would allow for us to respond to this more proactively, as opposed to us having to wait for something to happen, and sometimes that ends up being tragic.”
“There is not a message that comes across on that phone or anything that is going on in that vehicle that is more important than your life. And there is nothing worth me showing up at your house to tell your family that you’re not coming home because you couldn’t put the phone down.”