May 7, 2021
Earlier this week, we posted a blog examining California Assembly Bill 47 (AB 47), the new distracted driving legislation that aims to crack down on drivers who fail to use hands-free devices. California is one of many states, including Ohio, that has recently introduced or passed laws specifically targeting distracted driving.
Ohio’s new bill was announced by lawmakers just a few days ago, proposing stricter rules against cell phone use while driving and declaring an ultimate goal, according local media outlet WKYC, of “cracking down on distracted driving in the state.” The meeting to consider the distracted driving legislation was conducted virtually by Zoom, with various members of the Ohio Controlling Board and state senate – including Andrew Brenner – appearing on the publicly streamed call.
Although the matter at hand was legislation to penalize distracted driving, aforementioned state senator, Andrew Brenner, chose to participate in the video call while driving. You read that correctly – in a public meeting for the entire world to see that focused on distracted driving, an Ohio elected official joined while literally committing an act of distracted driving.
And Brenner may have gotten away with it, had it not been for the conspicuous seat belt in plain view. Brenner used a virtual background of his home office in an apparent attempt at concealing his own distracted driving. As the Guardian reports, “Andrew Brenner might have succeeded in fooling the meeting with the state’s controlling board, were it not for the seatbelt strapped across his chest, glimpses of the road behind him, and the constant turning of his head as he changed lanes.”
The incident has sparked worldwide media attention, with CNN posting the video.
Though many would likely consider the incident (and botched attempt at concealing it) to be a mortifying gaffe, Brenner played it cool. In fact, he confirmed to the Columbus Dispatch that it wasn’t his first time driving while in the middle of a public meeting.
“I’ve actually been on other calls, numerous calls, while driving. Phone calls for the most part, but on video calls, I’m not paying attention to the video. To me, it’s like a phone call,” Brenner said.
He also denied that he was driving unsafely, or that he was in any way distracted. I “wasn’t distracted,” he said, adding that he was “paying attention to the driving and listening to” the discussion the entire time.
Regarding the legislation that was presented during Brenner’s distracted driving incident, House Bill 283 proposes expanding a ban on texting while driving (currently a secondary offense in the state). If passed, Ohio HB 283 would explicitly outlaw texting, livestreaming, taking photos, and the use of mobile apps while driving. Additionally, it would make both the holding and use of an electronic device while driving a primary offense.
Distracted driving has been a hot button issue in Ohio, with Governor Mike DeWine stating publicly, “Ohio’s current laws don’t go far enough to change the culture around distracted driving, and people are dying because of it.”
“Distracted driving is a choice that must be as culturally unacceptable as drunk driving is today, and strengthening our current laws will lead to more responsible driving,” DeWine added.
In essence, Ohio HB 283 is quite similar to California’s AB 47, which takes effect on July 1.
In April, the Seattle Times reported that Washington State Senator, Rebecca Saldaña, participated in a legislative video hearing while driving a car to Olympia, the state’s capital.
Washington’s state legislature had already passed a distracted driving law in 2017. Public testimony by families of victims killed in distracted driving car accidents reportedly helped push the legislation into law. Washington state code makes various types of distracted driving behaviors illegal, including “watching video on a personal electronic device.”
During the call, Saldaña, Vice Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, appeared on a livestream while driving, with a virtual Capitol as her chosen background. During the meeting, after being asked a question about clean fuels, she responded:
“I’m driving my old vehicle right now, and a lot of Washingtonians have to drive farther if they’re in rural communities, or if they’re low income, they make do with their gas vehicle for longer and don’t necessarily have the opportunity to buy a Tesla or a hydrogen Toyota …”
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