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Safety Director Wants Distracted-Driving Fines Back in Transportation Bill

The legislation aims to correct a situation where a driver with no experience at all can take a test to get a license with "zero education."

Mon March 16, 2015 - Midwest Edition
JULIE CARR SMYTH - AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio’s public safety director is urging the state Senate to restore proposed distracted-driving penalties and training requirements for first-time drivers to a pending transportation budget, saying the provisions are part of a package of changes aimed at protecting Ohio roads.

The Ohio House stripped those elements of the administration’s Drive Toward a Safer Ohio initiative from the $7 billion transportation bill it sent to the Senate last week, with the intent of reviewing them as part of separate legislation.

Public Safety Director John Born argues that the initiative’s driver training, driver testing and driver safety elements are intertwined, with $250 fines assessed for distracted driving intended to help subsidize proposed new driver’s education requirements for those who can’t afford them.

The administration proposed that all first-time drivers, not just juveniles, be required to undergo minimal driver education training under the plan.

Born said currently in Ohio, a driver with no experience at all can take a test to get a license with ”zero education.’ He noted that state driving tests don’t test certain critical driving skills, such as highway driving.

”We have people coming into our drivers’ exams stations at the state, getting ready to take their driver’s exams test and getting in the wrong side of the car,’ he said. ”We have them crashing as they’re getting ready to pull out of the parking lot because they don’t know where the brake is.’

Born said the department would like to see 16- to 25-year-olds required to undergo minimal training, such as a one-day Saturday course like those offered to motorcyclists.

That age group makes up only about a quarter of all drivers but is responsible for 63 percent of accidents, he said.

”So even if you don’t have someone in that age group, this should matter to you if you live in Ohio, because they’re the most dangerous driver when it comes to being at fault out there on the road with you,’ he said.

Another proposal would impose a 1-year probationary period on minor drivers regardless of age, so if they start driving at age 17, they would still be on probation as an 18-year-old.

Born said collecting fines for distracted driving would help cover the costs of the added training requirements. The infraction would be expanded to distracting activities beyond texting, such as reading email on or making calls by hand on a handheld device, knitting, or reading a newspaper or book behind the wheel.

The determination would be up to the officer, Born said, and the fine would only be an add-on to a ticket not an infraction in itself. In that way, Born said it would function like fees assessed now for speeding in a construction zone.

State Rep. Cheryl Grossman, chair of the House Finance transportation subcommittee, said a separate bill she expects to be ready next week will bump up distracted driving from an add-on penalty to a secondary offense but lower the fine proposed by the administration.

”The goal is to bring awareness to what we’re doing, to educate the public. It’s not to generate revenue,’ she said.

Senate President Keith Faber said he expects committee and floor votes on the transportation bill by Wednesday, noting that the Public Safety Department’s position on youth driving ”seems reasonable.’

”I’m concerned that we have a fair balance,’ Faber said.

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