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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signs tougher distracted driving penalties into law




Photo by Alexandre Boucher on Unsplash

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 288 on Tuesday, strengthening laws related to the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving in the state.

The legislation designates the use of such devices as a primary traffic offense for all drivers. It allows law enforcement to immediately pull over a distracted driver upon witnessing a violation, whereas previously distracted driving was only a primary offense for juvenile drivers.

“This bill helps ensure that Ohio law reflects modern realities while supporting law enforcement in their mission to keep drivers safe,” said Lt. Governor Jon Husted. “I commend Governor DeWine for championing this effort, which will bring about real change when it comes to distracted driving – ultimately saving lives.”

Distracted driving is known to be underreported, but the Ohio State Highway Patrol reports that there have been at least 73,945 distracted driving crashes in the state since 2017, including 2,186 fatal and serious injury crashes.

Traffic fatalities in Ohio have increased in eight of nine years from 2013 to 2021, with deaths reaching their highest point in nearly two decades in 2021 with 1,355 fatalities.

Preliminary traffic data from 2022 indicates that at least 1,269 people were killed in traffic crashes last year.

“Certainly not all fatal traffic crashes are caused by distracted driving, but it’s no coincidence that evolving smartphone technology has coincided with increasing roadway deaths and injuries,” said Governor DeWine. “Other states with similar distracted driving laws have experienced fewer fatal crashes, and we expect that this enhanced distracted driving law will have the same impact here.”

Under the new law, drivers may still use their devices in specific circumstances, such as when their vehicle is parked or stopped at a red light. They are also permitted to swipe their phones to answer a call and to hold their phones to their ears during phone conversations. Emergency calls are permitted in all circumstances.

Senate Bill 288 will go into effect in 90 days. During the first six months following the effective date, law enforcement will issue warnings to drivers found violating the law. After this six-month grace period, law enforcement will have the authority to issue citations. Penalties include a fine of up to $150 for a driver’s first offense and up to $300 for each subsequent offense.

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