Bill Changes Distribution Of Points For Speeding

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Two drivers stopped for speeding on the same highway, each going 85 in a 65 mph zone.

One drives off with two points against his license. The other -- a frequent speeder -- gets hit with six, the same as if he'd been arrested for vehicular homicide. In Ohio, drivers have their licenses suspended after 12 points.

An overhaul of Ohio's traffic laws awaiting Gov. Bob Taft's signature will change the way speeding drivers accumulate points on their licenses.

Receiving as many points for speeding as for a serious crime such as vehicular homicide "struck us as out of whack," said David Diroll, executive director of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission, which helped draft the 1,023-page bill.

Under current law, frequent speeders rack up points based on how fast they were driving and how many previous tickets they'd had.

The legislation before Taft, sponsored by Sen. Scott Oelslager, a Canton Republican, removes previous violations as a factor in determining points.

For example, a person going 85 in a 65 mph zone, would receive two points against his license whether it was a violation for the first or fourth time. A person going 95 in 65 mph zone, for example, would receive four points each time.

"This lets both drivers and law enforcement know exactly what the person is facing," Diroll said. "It doesn't trivialize speeding, it makes it more self-contained."

The change was supported by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said Lt. John Born, a trooper and spokesman for Ohio's Department of Public Safety.

The bill also softens the legal penalty for a person's first two speeding tickets in a year. Under current law, a second offense is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which usually means a trip to the courthouse.

Fines and jail time are also possible, meaning a person could request a public defender and a trial, which clogs up an already busy court system, Diroll said.

The new legislation makes both a first and second offense a minor misdemeanor, which doesn't get the legal system involved, he said.

Once signed into law, the bill wouldn't take effect until Jan. 1, 2004, to give communities a chance to become familiar with the changes. It will mean one-time costs of as much as $3.9 million to counties and cities to train police officers about the changes, according to a Legislative Service Commission analysis.

Overall, the bill's tone is one of trying to give "deserving drivers" a chance to keep their licenses, Diroll said.

Traffic laws affect almost everyone, although they often take a back seat to bigger state issues, Diroll said.

Such laws are "how the average citizen encounters the criminal justice system," he said. "Most of us aren't out stealing and robbing and raping, but we drive cars every day."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)