Ohio’s Updated Distracted Driving Law Makes Texting And Driving A Primary Offense

Ohio residents are being told to put their phones down while driving as it’s the law. Distracted driving in regard to using an electronic wireless communications device is now a primary offense, meaning officers can stop a vehicle without evidence of other violations in the state of Ohio.

BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — With the signing of Ohio Senate Bill 288 in January, several updates have been made to the Ohio Revised Code, and as of April 4, there have been some changes made to distracted driving laws in the state.

With the bill, distracted driving in regard to using an electronic device is now a primary offense, meaning officers can stop a vehicle without evidence of other violations.

According to Maumee Police Chief Josh Sprow, this is a way to save lives and reduce the number of crashes in Ohio.

“The whole reason this is being done is because of the increase of distracted driving-related deaths,” Sprow acknowledged. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2021, 3,522 people died as a result of distracted driving-related crashes. The Ohio State Highway Patrol Distracted Driving Dashboard shows there have been more than 62,000 distracted driving-related crashes in Ohio since 2018.

While distracted driving can relate to manual, visual or cognitive distractions, the law currently taking effect is specifically focused on the use of electronic wireless communications devices.

“With this law, you can’t be manipulating your phone while driving,” Sprow explained.

Drivers over the age of 18 are limited in what they can do on their electronic devices. These drivers may make or receive phone calls using hands-free technology such as Bluetooth, speakerphone, an earpiece, wireless headset or electronic watch.

“You can use your phone up to your ear like a traditional phone is used, but you cannot put it on speaker phone and then hold it in front of your face and talk,” Sprow warned.

The new law limits how much contact drivers over the age of 28 can have with the electronic devices, noting in most cases, anything requiring more than a single touch or swipe is prohibited.

Drivers under the age of 18 are restricted from using their electronic devices in any way, including hands-free technology.

Notable exceptions to the law include drivers reporting an emergency to the proper entity, first responders using electronic devices as part of their official duties, utility workers in specific emergencies or outage situations, licensed operators using amateur radios and commercial truck drivers operating a mobile data terminal.

Additionally, the law prohibits drivers from using their electronic devices at a stop sign, but they are allowed to hold or use it while stopped at a traffic light or parked on a road or highway during a road closure or emergency.

In some cities, laws similar to this have already been enacted, but the new laws and penalties are statewide.

For the next six months, anyone pulled over for the violation will receive a warning from the officer. Beginning on October 5, officers will start issuing citations.

According to the Ohio Department of Transpor-tation, the first offense in two years can come with two points assessed to the driver’s license and a fine up to $150. A second offense in two years can be three points assessed to the driver’s license and a fine not to exceed $250. Three or more offenses in two years can have four points assessed to the driver’s license, a fine up to $500 and a possible 90-day suspension of the driver’s license.

All fines are doubled if the violation occurs in a work zone.

More information on the law, including exceptions and penalties, can be found on transportation.ohio.gov/phonesdown and under Section 4511.204 of the Ohio Revised Code.

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