Distracted driving campaign, legislation gain momentum

The timing was perfect. Shelby County Farm Bureau member Leah Fullenkamp had just restarted her distracted driving awareness program in schools when she was contacted by the Ohio Department of Transportation. A video crew was going to be in her area and could she do a video to highlight the dangers of distracted driving?

Fullenkamp jumped at the chance. Her husband, John, had been killed when a distracted driver hit the tractor and sprayer he had been driving, leaving her a widow with four young children. In the months after the crash, a lone fly would visit the heartbroken family, and Fullenkamp came up with the idea of starting a distracted driving education program. She named it “In the Blink of a Fly,” a play-on-words of the phrase “in the blink of an eye.” The campaign was a way to deal with her grief and share the story of how 16 seconds of distracted driving changed her life forever.

June 16, 2018, is a day seared in Fullenkamp’s memory, and she has worked hard on her distracted driving campaign, talking to students in nearby schools and having a billboard set up near the accident site with the help of Shelby County Farm Bureau. Her campaign was paused for over a year because of the pandemic, but now that COVID-19 numbers are down statewide, she’s back to giving presentations in schools, and another billboard went up near Botkins on property owned by Shelby County Farm Bureau members Matt and Kate Schmerge. Fullenkamp also recently started lining up presentations with businesses, starting by talking to truck drivers for Cooper Farms.

Distracted driving legislation

Both Farm Bureau and Nationwide are part of a broad coalition of businesses and stakeholders in support of House Bill 283, which was introduced in the Ohio House in early May. Some provisions of the proposed distracted driving legislation are:

  • Prohibits using, holding or physically supporting a device while driving and makes it a primary offense, allowing an officer to cite a driver for using a device without any other traffic offense taking place.
  • Extends texting bans to also ban all non-navigational viewing such as watching or recording videos, taking photos or looking at images, live streaming, and using applications while driving.
  • Creates a tiered penalty and enforcement section that establishes both monetary penalties and points aligning the offense with similar dangerous vehicular infractions.

“Many farmers are concerned about their safety when driving equipment on public roads because of the number of accidents they have encountered from motorists who are impatient, unaware of traffic laws or distracted,” said Jenna Reese, OFBF director of state policy during proponent testimony on the legislation. “The data show how the number of distracted driving accidents is skyrocketing in recent years, especially in the last year due to greater dependency on phones during the pandemic. Hands-free laws are proven to be effective in reducing accidents caused by distracted drivers.”

Nationwide has taken a strong position on distracted driving, advocating for all 50 states to adopt hands-free, primary enforcement laws to curb distracted driving. States that have adopted these laws have seen a 15% decrease in fatalities. Nationwide’s SmartRide mobile app has been showing drivers when and how they are distracted by their phones. Statistics show that 45% of every trip taken has a driving distraction, and over 70% of people are distracted at least once while driving each day.

Leah Fullenkamp said she was surprised by the outpouring of support after her story was featured in the March/April issue of Our Ohio magazine.

“Ever since the article was out, a lot of people have reached out to get ‘In the Blink of a Fly’ signs for their yards. People from eight or nine counties have contacted me, and I’m so grateful for all the help from Farm Bureau,” she said.

Beyond her distracted driving campaign, a new focus for Fullenkamp is putting together a workbook on what documents are needed after someone dies.

“While most people have a will and trust, there’s a lot of gray area. I had no clue on where to find a birth certificate, life insurance policies, how to take out a death certificate, what to do about social media, how to donate clothes,” she said. “Just the thought of all this was overwhelming. Having a workbook like this will help others.”