Strengthened Distracted Driving Law Launched In Ohio this Week

Written by on April 5, 2023

Governor DeWine Marks Beginning of Strengthened Distracted Driving Law, Launches Campaign
Beginning tomorrow, warnings for violating the new law will be issued for six months.
Law enforcement will issue primary-offense citations for distracted driving in October.

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Andy Wilson, Ohio State Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel Charles Jones, and Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks this week unveiled a new statewide public awareness campaign to draw attention to Ohio’s strengthened distracted driving laws.

Beginning on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, it will be illegal in most circumstances for anyone in Ohio to use or hold a cell phone or electronic device while driving.
The new educational campaign encourages Ohio drivers to ‘Lock Your Screen Before You Rock the Road’ and includes a new website, billboards, printable posters, fact sheets, presentation slides, tip cards, and social media, radio, and television advertisements. Additional materials relay the simple, but important message of ‘Phones Down. It’s the Law.’

“Distracted driving crashes aren’t accidents, they’re the result of drivers who make the choice to divert their attention away from the road and risk their lives and the lives of everyone around them,” said Governor DeWine. “Far too many people have been seriously injured and killed in Ohio because of poor choices behind the wheel, and we are certain that this new law will influence positive changes in behavior and save lives as a result.”

New research from Nationwide Insurance found that 42 percent of Ohio drivers surveyed admit making a phone call on a handheld device while driving, 25 percent say they’ve texted while driving, 10 percent have video chatted, and 5 percent admitted to watching TV or a movie while driving.
“There is nothing worse than having to knock on a door and inform someone that their loved one isn’t coming home. We know distracted driving is dangerous, and we are hopeful that this new law will be a reminder of that,” said Ohio State Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel Charles Jones.

Ohio’s strengthened law designates the use of cell phones and other electronic communications devices while driving as a primary traffic offense for all drivers and allows law enforcement to immediately pull over a distracted driver upon witnessing a violation. Under the previous law, distracted driving was a primary offense only for juvenile drivers, preventing officers from stopping adult distracted drivers unless those drivers also committed a separate primary traffic violation, such as speeding or running a red light.
The law includes a 6-month grace period in which law enforcement will issue warnings as part of an effort to educate motorists about the law changes. Beginning on October 4, 2023, law enforcement officers will begin issuing tickets to those found violating the law.
According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, distracted driving has caused at least 60,421 crashes and 209 deaths in Ohio over the past five years, although distracted-driving crashes are believed to be significantly underreported.
“There’s nothing that you’ve ever done on your phone at any point in time that is worth killing somebody for,” said Leah Fullenkamp, whose husband was killed in 2018 when his vehicle was rear-ended by a driver who was online shopping.

“This goes beyond just texting. We’re now seeing drivers watching videos, updating social media, and browsing the web. When a driver chooses to look at their phone, they are impacting every single person on the roadway,” said Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks.
ODOT is also installing signage to educate motorists about the law at locations across the state. These include 45 signs at the state border on interstates and U.S. highways and 19 signs at exits from Ohio’s largest passenger airports in Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo.
“This new law is about changing behavior,” said Andy Wilson, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. “Drivers need to be more responsible for their own safety and to keep from harming others on our roads.”

Ohio’s enhanced distracted driving law was part of Senate Bill 288, sponsored by Senator Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville). The bill was initially part of House Bill 283 sponsored by representatives Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) and Brian Lampton (R-Beavercreek).
There are some exceptions to the law, including allowing adult drivers to make or receive calls while using a hands-free device. Adult drivers are also permitted to use GPS if they begin navigation before getting on the road. Adult drivers are still permitted to hold a phone directly to their ear for a phone call, but devices may only be activated with a single touch or swipe while driving. Adult drivers are also permitted to hold or use electronic devices while stopped at a traffic light or parked on a road or highway during an emergency or road closure. Both adults and juveniles can use phones at any time to report an emergency to first responders.

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