Texting while driving is already illegal in Ohio but a new law takes effect this week that will make it easier for officers to pull motorists over for distracted driving.
The new, upgraded law makes driving distracted − texting, checking social media, streaming videos − a primary offense. That means the police no longer need to see another traffic infraction before making the stop.
On Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine said a statewide effort will launch soon to educate Ohio drivers about the new law. DeWine said a new website is up to inform drivers at phonesdown.ohio.gov
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The law has several exceptions, which include:
- making an emergency call to the police, the fire department or the hospital.
- using a phone while stopped on the side of the road, at a red light or because of an emergency or road closure.
- holding a phone near your ear for a call.
- using a speakerphone.
- using navigation services as long as you’re not typing in a destination or holding the phone.
- using a single touch or swipe to end a call, for example.
“We have been working for years to change the culture around this deadly behavior,” DeWine said Monday.
State lawmakers are debating whether to tweak the new law but any changes won’t be decided until later this year, if at all, according to Senate Transportation Committee Chairwoman Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard.
In 2022, distracted driving contributed to at least 31 fatal crashes and 258 crashes with serious injuries, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol. Since 2017, distracted driving has contributed to 73,945 crashes.
For the next six months, officers will only be allowed to issue warnings. After that, the penalties are:
- A fine of up to $150 and two points on your license for the first offense.
- A fine of up to $250 and three points on your license for a second offense within two years.
- A fine of up to $500, four points on your license and a 90-day driver’s license suspension for a third offense within two years.
- Individuals can avoid the fine and points for a first offense by taking an approved distracted driving course instead.
- Fines are doubled for those who use cellphones while driving in a construction zone.
Under the new law, the Ohio State Highway Patrol must also compile an annual report on how many people are cited for distracted driving, including demographic information such as race.
Ohio banned texting while driving in 2012 but made it a primary offense for drivers under 18 and a secondary offense for adults.
Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.