Ohio bill would make cell-phone related crashes a felony

| 6/21/2006

A bill in the Ohio Senate would allow for harsher penalties when cell-phone use causes a crash.

Sponsored by Sen. Gary Cates, R-West Chester, the bill would authorize drivers to be charged with vehicular assault or aggravated vehicular homicide – both felonies – if prosecutors believe phone use contributed or caused a crash, The Associated Press reported. The same penalties are charged to motorists who drive under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.

The bill – SB317 – is in the Senate Judiciary Criminal Justice Committee.

Cates' bill isn't the only effort in the Ohio Legislature to address cell phone use in vehicles. Bills in the House and Senate would ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Emergency phone calls and talking on “hands-free” devices would still be permitted.

Nearly 30 states have some kind of ban on cell phones in vehicles. But only three states – Connecticut, New Jersey and New York – have statewide laws restricting cell phone use. No state prohibits hands-free usage.

The Ohio legislation is drawing consideration as a report released this spring from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found cell-phone use was the most common distraction for drivers in crashes and near-crashes, The AP reported . The study also found that the risk of crashes increases nearly 300 percent when drivers dial their cell phones.

The Governors Highway Safety Association opposes efforts that single out cell-phone use. The group said the focus should be on education.