Ohio Bill Would Make Using Hand-Held Device While Driving a Primary Offense

February 19, 2020

A new bill introduced in Ohio would strengthen Ohio’s laws regarding the use of wireless devices, including smartphones, while driving.

The Hands-Free Ohio bill, sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and Sen. Sean J. O’Brien (D-Bazetta) would, with limited exceptions, make driving while handling any electronic wireless device a primary offense. This includes, but is not limited to, writing, sending, or reading text-based communications; watching or recording videos; taking photos or looking at images; livestreaming; using apps; entering information into GPS navigation programs; dialing phone numbers; or holding a device for a phone call.

Currently, using a hand-held electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication while driving is a secondary offense for adult drivers (ORC 4511.204). Law enforcement cannot make a traffic stop unless the driver also commits a primary traffic offense, such as running a red light.

The current penalty is a fine of up to $150.

The Hands-Free Ohio bill will increase fines for drivers who habitually use devices while driving. In cases where a driver using a device causes serious injury or death, the penalties will mirror those of drunken driving.

According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, traffic fatalities on Ohio roads have increased in five of the past six years. Provisional data shows that 2019 was the second-deadliest year of the past decade with at least 1,157 people killed in Ohio traffic crashes.

Exemptions in the bill include using hand-held wireless devices for emergency calls; while in a stationary vehicle outside of the lane of traffic; in hands-free mode to talk on the phone, dictate text-based messages, or listen to received messages; in circumstances where an action can be accomplished with only a single swipe; in public safety or utility professions, as necessary for duties; or if the wireless feature is a permanent part of the vehicle.

Additionally, the bill permits drivers to use GPS devices for navigation, however, destinations must be entered before driving begins and the device cannot be held or supported with the body.

To help educate drivers on the changes in the law, the Hands-Free Ohio bill includes a provision directing law enforcement to issue warnings for violations during the first six months following the signing of the bill. The Ohio Department of Transportation will also install road signs to alert drivers from other states to Ohio’s regulations.

Source: The Risk Institute, Ohio State University Fisher College of Business

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