September is Safe Driving Awareness Month

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Ohio State Senator Jim Hughes has written a guest column on the upcoming Safe Driving Awareness Month.

"September's Safe Driving Awareness Month is a time to consider the consequences of distracted driving and hold each other to a higher standard," Sen. Hughes writes.

Sen. Hughes also discusses 10TV Dom Tiberi and his family's mission with Maria's Message.

You can read Sen. Hughes' full column below.

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Sometimes we can only find an escape from the noise and demands of the day in the confines of our own cars. By ignoring the incessant buzzing of our smart phones and treating our morning and evening commutes as a break instead of an extension of the workday, we can avoid distracted driving and keep the roads safer. We can demonstrate to our children that whatever is pressing for our attention can wait. Unfortunately, too many Ohioans know from experience that picking up the phone to text even for a few seconds can be a life-altering decision.

September's Safe Driving Awareness Month is a time to consider the consequences of distracted driving and hold each other to a higher standard. For the young drivers who are taking the steering wheel for the first time as they return to school this fall, adults set the standard for safe driving. When we check a work email from behind the wheel, we send the message to the young people around us that the risk we’re taking is acceptable.

In fact, the consequences of distracted driving can be lethal. In 2013 Maria Tiberi, the daughter of my friend and Columbus sports anchor Dom Tiberi, tragically died on the road after her car crashed into the back of a semi-truck. The Tiberi family has taken her story—known as Maria's Message—into schools to share the personal impact of distracted driving in hopes that other families might avoid the pain they’ve endured.

The story of Maria Tiberi and thousands of other Ohioans inspired me to draft legislation designating every September as Safe Driving Awareness Month. Since it was signed into law in 2014, the bill has given Ohio communities a new opportunity to heighten awareness every September.

Here in the Ohio legislature, my colleagues and I have passed legislation to promote safe driving. Several years ago, Governor Kasich signed into law a bill we passed to make texting and driving illegal. More recently, the Senate passed legislation I introduced to increase penalties for distracted driving. Despite our best efforts, too many Ohioans are not getting the message. For drivers under 18, a conviction for texting and driving can result in a 60-day license suspension or a $150 fine, but over 70 percent of teen drivers admit to doing it anyway. The consequences are devastating. According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, 13,261 drivers in Ohio crashed while distracted in 2015. Thousands were seriously injured and 43 drivers and passengers lost their lives.

Every person whose life has been irreversibly impacted by distracted driving knows that in one moment, everything can change. Let's consider the startling statistic that reading the average text takes our eyes off the road for the five seconds it takes to cross an entire football field at 55mph. If we’re not willing to drive down a football field blindfolded, it doesn't make sense that we would be willing to text on the highway.

September is an opportune time to focus on the risks of distracted driving, but we must be sound the alarm bell every month of the year. If you’re the parent of a young driver, remind them that even if they’re mostly focused on the road, the driver in the car two lanes over may be watching a Youtube video or taking selfies. None of us can control the actions of other drivers, but we can make sure that we and our family members are doing our best to stay distraction-free on the road. Like the Tiberi family, we can share stories that encourage our friends and neighbors to think twice about picking up the phone or digging around for something on the car floor instead of watching the road. By example, we can tell new drivers that their lives are more important than whatever is competing for their attention.

This September, I invite you to join me and my colleagues in promoting safe driving practices in our local community. The difference between safe and distracted driving can mean the difference between life and death, as families like the Tiberi family know firsthand. In memory of Maria and the many other lives claimed by distracted driving, let's do everything we can to stay safe behind the wheel.

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