Fact Check

Did an Ohio State Senator Drive During a Zoom Call About Distracted Driving?

Andrew Brenner caused a stir with his antics during a May 2021 meeting of the Ohio Controlling Board.

Published May 6, 2021

 (The Ohio Channel/Ohio Controlling Board)
Image Via The Ohio Channel/Ohio Controlling Board
During a virtual meeting of the Ohio Controlling Board, and while debating distracted driving, State Senator Andrew Brenner drove his car and added a fake "office" background on Zoom.
What's True

Brenner drove during the May 5, 2021 Zoom meeting of the Ohio Controlling Board, and he added a fake "office" background while he traveled. However...

What's False

The meeting had nothing to do with distracted driving, or a newly-introduced bill to enhance the penalties against using electronic devices while driving.

In May 2021, news articles and widely-shared social media posts reported that an Ohio State Senator had been caught driving during an official Zoom video conference, and even used a fake "office" background.

On May 6, Brody Logan, a reporter at the NBC affiliate KSEE in Fresno, California, posted a short video to Twitter, along with the following text:

"This Ohio State Senator thought he was slick, using a Zoom background of his home office while driving... debating a bill for harsher penalties for distracted driving..."

Similarly, Newsweek published an article with the headline "Ohio Senator Uses Zoom Office Background While Driving During Hearing on Distracted Driving Bill." The report went on:

An Ohio state Republican senator participated in a virtual Zoom meeting regarding distracted driving legislation while using an office background as he drove his vehicle this week. During the 13-minute meeting of the Ohio Controlling Board on Monday, State Senator Andrew Brenner could be seen fiddling with his phone, while also turning his camera on and off as he drove with the office background displayed.

Andrew Brenner did drive during the Zoom call, and he did use a fake "office" background. However, the meeting had nothing to do with distracting driving, which was an important component of much of the commentary surrounding the incident, since it provided a significant element of irony. As a result, we're issuing a rating of "Mixture."

Here's What Happened During That Zoom Call

The incident in question took place during the May 3, 2021 meeting of the Ohio Controlling Board, a body that provides legislative oversight of statewide spending, procurement and investment in Ohio.

The video can be watched in full on the Ohio Channel website, here.

When Brenner first appears, he is clearly sitting in a parked car, not wearing a seatbelt:

He disappears from view for a short while, then reappears, this time with his camera zoomed in on his face. Around the 3:30 mark, his background abruptly shifts from his car, to a fake "office":

Brenner then disappears from view again, and when he becomes visible again around one minute later, he can clearly be seen driving the car, with his seatbelt on, and the "office" backdrop still in place:

In an interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Brenner admitted he was driving during the meeting, but denied being distracted:

"I wasn't distracted. I was paying attention to the driving and listening to it (the meeting,)" Brenner said. "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."

On the same day as the Ohio Controlling Board meeting took place, May 3, Republicans in the state house introduced House Bill 283, which would enhance and expand Ohio's existing prohibition against distracted driving and using electronic devices while driving.

However, after watching the full Ohio Controlling Board meeting from that day, as well as checking its agenda, it's clear that none of the participants even mentioned House Bill 283, specifically, or distracted driving more broadly. That particular claim, as made by Newsweek and Logan, was inaccurate.

Dan Mac Guill is a former writer for Snopes.

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