Speed Reads

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Ohio state senator caught driving during work videoconference insists he wasn't distracted from the road

Ohio state Sen. Andrew Brenner (R) showed up to work Monday, participating in a videoconference meeting of the budget-adjusting Ohio Controlling Board.

"The problem for Brenner was that he did so while driving, while his government meeting was being recorded, and while his legislative colleagues were pressing to tighten rules on using smartphones behind the wheel," The Washington Post reported Thursday. "A recording of the nearly 13-minute videoconference — much of which overlapped with Brenner's drive — showed the seat-belt-using senator repeatedly glancing in the direction of his phone, which had been placed to his right."

Brenner told The Columbus Dispatch he "wasn't distracted" during the videoconference. "I was paying attention to the driving and listening," he added. "I'm not paying attention to the video. To me, it's like a phone call. ... I was wearing a seat belt and paying attention to the road."

In the video, Brenner does appear to be looking at the road most of the time, but he also glances at his phone pretty regularly. "I think it's fairly obvious, but it's a terrible idea," Thomas Dingus, author of Survive the Drive, A Guide to Keeping Everyone on the Road Alive, tells the Post. "If they're short glances, it's better. It's still not good. ... If you're looking double-digit numbers of times away form the roadway, your crash risk is increasing."

"The funniest aspect of this whole minor scandal" is that "Brenner turned on a virtual background to make it appear like he was at home in his office," Matt Novak argues at Gizmodo. "And he failed miserably." Novak documented how "Brenner turned his camera on and off repeatedly in an apparent effort to disguise where he was actually calling from," starting with his actual background in the car, then visibly tinkering with the background.

"Brenner's explanation would be a lot more believable if he didn't bother with the virtual background and wasn't constantly fiddling with his phone while he was driving," Novak writes. "His entire ruse made him way more distracted than if he had simply kept his camera off and only had the audio going."