Effort in Ohio would restrict drivers' cell phone use

| Tuesday, July 19, 2005

If a pair of Ohio state lawmakers get their way, drivers in the state would be required to keep their hands off their phones.

Democratic Rep. Catherine Barrett of Cincinnati and Sen. Teresa Fedor of Toledo have sponsored companion bills that would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

Young drivers with temporary instruction permits would be barred from using any phone.

The measures would make it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. Violators would face a $100 fine. Repeat offenders could be jailed for 30 to 60 days. It also could result in two points on a driver’s license.

Emergency calls would be exempted.

The efforts also call for establishing an offense of “inattentive driving,” which is defined as operating a vehicle while the driver’s attention is diverted “to an unreasonable degree” by a distraction

Currently, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. That list may grow, however, as more studies underline the risks and dangers of driving while talking on the phone.

The latest study to find that using cell phones while driving can distract drivers, regardless of whether they’re using a hands-free device, was released this week.

The human brain can’t simultaneously give full attention to both auditory and visual tasks, according to research by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“Our research helps explain why talking on a cell phone can impair driving performance, even when the driver is using a hands-free device,” Steven Yantis, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the university, said in a press release. “When attention is deployed to one modality – say, in this case, talking on the cell phone – it necessarily extracts a cost on another modality – in this case, the visual task of driving.”

In other words, if you’re on the phone, you’re brain can’t devote as much attention to driving.

HB274 is in the House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. SB157 is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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