As of April 4, 2023, it is illegal to hold or use a smartphone or other electronic device while driving in Ohio. With limited exceptions, law enforcement can now pull over drivers distracted by their phone. Even a single swipe or button press is against the law. Penalties range from fines and driver’s license points to loss of driving privileges.
Distracted driving is a leading cause of Ohio car accidents and may be used as evidence of another driver’s negligence if you were in a crash. You may also have been wrongly accused of breaking the state’s distracted driver law and wish to contest the offense.
Understanding The New Distracted Driving Law
There is a six-month interim period during which law enforcement will only issue warnings for violations. But when the six-month grace period ends October 4, police will have the ability to pull over distracted drivers.
The strengthened law makes distracted driving a primary offense. That means police do not have to witness a driver committing another traffic violation, like speeding or running a red light, to pull them over. The state’s previous law made distracted driving a primary offense only for drivers under 18.
According to the law, operating a motor vehicle while “using, holding, or physically supporting with any part of the person’s body” an electronic device constitutes an unclassified misdemeanor. Prohibited device usage while driving includes the following actions:
- Using social media
- Video calling
- Browsing the web
- Watching videos
- Playing games
- Recording video or live streaming
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) notes on its Phones Down site that, in most cases, “anything more than a single touch or swipe is against the law.” However, the law does provide these exceptions:
- Making or receiving “hands-free” (i.e., Bluetooth) calls
- Reporting an emergency
- Holding a phone to the ear only during conversations, after starting or stopping the call with a single touch/swipe
- Holding/using a device while stopped at a light or parked on a roadway during an emergency closure
- First responders and utility workers using a device in the line of duty
- Licensed amateur radio operators
- Commercial truckers on a mobile data terminal
- Viewing or operating a navigation device without holding or touching it
If law enforcement stops a driver for suspected distracted driving, the officer may not access the driver’s device or confiscate it without consent or a warrant.
Distracted Driving Penalties
Ohio’s new distracted driving law comes with more prohibitions as well as steeper penalties, including:
- 1st offense in two years: Up to $150 fine and 2 points assessed to driver’s license
- These penalties can be avoided if the driver completes a distracted driving class
- 2nd offense in two years: Up to $250 fine and 3 points assessed to license
- 3rd or more offenses in two years: Up to $500 fine, 4 license points, and 90-day license suspension
- Work zone offenses: Fines doubled
Distracted Driving Caused 60,000 Ohio Crashes in Last Five Years
Governor DeWine said Ohio’s tougher distracted driving law is necessary due to the number of serious injuries and deaths attributable to drivers not paying attention. A news release from his office notes that, over the past five years, distracted driving has caused more than 60,000 crashes and over 200 deaths statewide.
The news release also cites data from a recent Nationwide Insurance report in Ohio that found, over the last 12 months:
- 42% of Ohio drivers admitted to making a phone call while driving
- 25% said they texted while driving
- 10% have video chatted while driving
- 12% have used social media while driving
Zanesville Ohio Distracted Driving Attorneys
Proving that another driver caused a crash because they were distracted can be difficult, but a lawyer can take actions, such as subpoenaing phone records, that helps to establish negligence.
A lawyer can also help a driver accused of distracted driving provide evidence that they were not breaking Ohio’s new distracted driving law, or that law enforcement conducted an illegal traffic stop. This may be particularly important if a driver faces a loss of license.
To schedule a free case review with a personal injury or criminal defense lawyer at Graham & Graham, call (800) 621 8585 or Contact Us.