Drivers texting behind the wheel can be pulled over under new Ohio law - and eventually fined
A new law takes effect Tuesday seeking to crack down on distracted driving – specifically, using a cell phone behind the wheel. But there will be some time to get used to the law before punishment for breaking it begins.
The law makes using or holding a cell phone or electronic device while driving a primary offense, which means drivers can be pulled over and cited.
“209 people lost since 2018 due to distracted driving. Each one of these crashes could have been prevented if someone had simply made the decision to focus on the road ahead instead of the phone in their hand," said Ohio Department of Transportation director Jack Marchbanks.
The bill bans drivers from holding cellphones and makes that an offense for which they can be pulled over. There are exceptions, including calling law enforcement, sitting at traffic lights, using navigation apps as long as the driver isn’t holding the phone or typing, making an emergency call and using the speakerphone mode.
“Distracted driving deaths in Ohio represented at least one out of every 36 traffic fatalities in 2022," said Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Andy Wilson.
The state has launched a public service campaign on the new law, called "Lock Your Screen Before You Rock The Road".
Among those speaking at the press conference announcing the new law and the public service campaign was Leah Fullenkamp. Her husband John was driving a tractor on a rural road in Shelby County in 2018 when he was rear-ended by a driver in an SUV. She was online shopping at the time.
“Activate the 'do not disturb' mode on your phone. Make a pact to keep your phone put away. Teach your kids or your grandkids how the type you address into your GPS. How to reply to the text. Speak out if you're writing with someone who's using [their] phone. Protect yourself from yourself," Fullenkamp said.
While drivers can be pulled over, fines for breaking the law won’t start until October 4.
The first offense will get a driver a fine of up to $150 and two points on the driver's record. A second offense within two years is a potential $250 fine and three points. A third offense within two years could bring a fine of up to $500 and a 90-day suspension of the driver's license.