Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 288 into law early this year making distracted driving a primary offense under Ohio law. This bill will take effect 90 days after it has been signed, so roughly April 3, 2023. Officers, however, are only able to issue written warnings to drivers for six months after its effective date.
What’s Covered by this Law?
Interestingly, this offense does not prohibit a driver from holding the phone near their ear for a call, using your phone on speaker mode, calling 9-1-1 or touching the phone once to start or end a call. It does, however, prevent drivers from dialing a phone number to make a call (aside from 9-1-1) as well as obviously texting while driving. Additionally, using a navigation app is allowed, so long as the driver is not holding it.
What’s a Primary Offense?
Previously, Ohio Revised Code § 4511.204 makes driving while texting illegal. However, unless the individual is under the age of 18, this offense is considered a secondary offense 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.
Senate Bill 288 now allows law enforcement to stop any driver, regardless of age, if they see a driver using, holding, or physically supporting a cell phone.
What are the Penalties?
The penalties for distracted driving escalate depending on the driver’s number of prior offenses. The first offense is a minor misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $150 and two points on one’s license. A second offense within two years carries a fine of up to $250 and three points on one’s license. The third offense within two years carries a fine of up to $500, four points on one’s license, and a 90-day license suspension. In all instances, the fines are doubled if it occurs in a construction zone. Additionally, a first offender can take a distracted driving class to avoid the fine and points.