Problems related to mobile communications while driving have become an epidemic. According to The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, over 440,000 people were injured and nearly 5,500 people were killed in accidents related to cell-phone use in 2009. The annual cost of these types of crashes is approximately $43 billion. A majority of states realize the dangers of driving while texting and have passed distracted driver-related legislation to combat the problem. The state of Ohio, however, is one of a minority of states that has not.
While Ohio currently does not have any state laws that ban or regulate the use of mobile communication devices while driving, several House bills and one Senate bill on the subjects of text messaging and electronic devices are under consideration. In March of this year, the state’s House voted to ban text messaging while driving, but the Senate has yet to weigh in on the matter.
In the absence of state action, many Ohio localities, including Cincinnati and Summit County, have passed their own ordinances. Still, in light of the local bans, few violations have been enforced due to law enforcement priorities.
According to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, cell-phone-using drivers are four times as likely to get into serious crashes. Other studies, such as the Highway Loss Data Institute’s December 2009 cell-phone-law report, conclude that text messaging and cell-phone-ban laws don’t decrease crashes or improve safety at all.
The Ohio legislature’s motivation to draft anti-texting laws could be something other than empirical data. In 2009, Congress proposed the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act (Alert Drivers Act.) If enacted, the new law would require all states to ban texting by drivers. If states don’t comply with this mandate, they would risk losing one-fourth of their federal transportation funds.
Today, mobile devices map out destinations, transmit documents and keep people connected to friends. Despite the benefits of this useful technology, headlines continue to fill the news with text messaging related fatalities and prompt states, including Ohio, to consider text messaging bans.
Whether or not the risks are real, federal money, not human casualty statistics may be the only real motivation behind recent efforts to pass this class of behavior-controlling legislation.