Ohio Sen. Andrew Brenner is answering some questions after video of a Zoom conference board session showed him driving around in his car while using a virtual “office” background. At issue was not simply the idea that the state senator might be multitasking during a meeting. The issue is two-pronged: Brenner was clearly trying to pretend he wasn’t driving while fiddling with his phone, and on the same day, Brenner’s Republican colleagues had just introduced a law banning the activity he was now doing.
On Monday, House Bill 283 was introduced to the Ohio legislature. The “short title” for the bill is “Prohibit driving while using electronic communications device.” The bill looks to expand a ban on texting while driving to a more “general prohibition against using an electronic wireless communications device while driving.” Brenner’s defense is that he was using the phone like an audio call and therefore is within the parameters of what is allowed by Ohio law. Unfortunately, the whole pretending he is in his office while continuously looking directly into the phone as if he is sitting in his office paying attention to a meeting belies that defense.
In video of the less than 13-minute meeting, Brenner can be seen signing in from his car. His arms are folded in front of him. He is not wearing a seat belt because he is clearly parked somewhere. Then, Brenner takes his phone down from dashboard holder he has and begins using it. (This is speculation based on the low angle, up-his-nose image we see.) Brenner disconnects from the meeting at this point. He comes back a few moments later, sitting back in his position as if nothing has changed. Brenner sees that nothing has changed in his frame and once again takes the phone off the dashboard to mess with it again. At this point he is able to finally get the background of his “virtual” office to appear around him. He sits back down and then disconnects from the meeting again. When Brenner reappears a minute or so later, he is clearly driving, a seat belt across his chest, looking both ways.
“I'm not paying attention to the video. To me, it's like a phone call.”
—State SeN. Andrew Brenner
Brenner told The Columbus Dispatch: "I wasn't distracted. I was paying attention to the driving and listening to [the meeting].” In fact, Brenner had a good excuse for not being able to sit still for the 13 minutes of meeting: "I had two meetings that were back to back that were in separate locations. And 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." Hey man, we have all been there! Of course, we aren’t part of a political party that seems to never practice what it preaches.
The bill would ban any writing, reading, or sending of texts. It would ban viewing videos, taking photos, live-streaming oneself, or using phone applications while driving. The biggest change in the bill would be that for a driver older than 18, holding an electronic device while driving would now be subject to the same texting laws minors are subject to. Specifically, police would be allowed to pull you over if they see you holding a phone. As of now, Ohio police can only pull you over if they witness a moving violation; an “electronic” distraction is considered a secondary offense.
Brenner might have some amendments to add to the GOP bill.