In 2012, Ohio enacted its first ban on texting while driving. This law prohibits drivers from writing, sending and even reading a text-based communication. This ban covers not only text messages but emails as well. The statute does allow drivers to receive messages regarding navigation-so GPS and mobile traffic apps appear safe. However, checking your texts or email at a red light or while stuck in traffic is a violation of this statute; the vehicle must be stationary and outside a lane of travel. A violation of this law is a minor misdemeanor and carries a maximum possible fine of $150.
Interestingly, this offense is considered a secondary offense in Ohio as the statute specifically states that law enforcement cannot stop someone solely as a result of he or she texting while driving. A driver can only be stopped and charged with this offense in conjunction with another traffic offense, such as speeding or going left of center.
Ohio also has a specific statute dealing with juvenile drivers, and it is even more stringent than the law governing adults. Unlike its adult counterpart, the juvenile statute is a primary offense-meaning someone under the age of 18 can be stopped solely on the basis of texting while driving. Additionally, the juvenile statute prohibits a driver from using an electronic wireless communications device in any manner. So on top of reading and sending texts, juvenile drivers are also prevented from using their mobile devices for making phone calls, navigational purposes, changing the music selection, and every other countless possible use (with the exception of using it for emergency purposes to contact law enforcement). Any juvenile who violates this offense will receive a mandatory $150 fine as well as a 60 day license suspension. Subsequent offenses carry a mandatory $300 fine and a one year license suspension.
There is an interesting issue that arises from a criminal defense perspective based on the differences between the two statutes and the fact that one is a secondary offense while the other is a primary offense. When enforcing the juvenile statute, law enforcement is forced to make assumptions about the age of the driver based on his or her appearance. Thus, a young looking driver over the age of 18 could very well be stopped for texting while driving. These erroneous stops can often lead to bigger problems for the driver as our office has seen several individuals charged with drug offenses and other criminal charges stemming from that contact with law enforcement. If you have been charged with texting with driving please feel free to contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima for a free consultation.