As Ohio begins its crackdown on distracted driving, motorists in the state can now be pulled over solely for using, holding or looking at their phone while behind the wheel.
On April 4, Senate Bill 288 went into effect. Signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine in January, SB288 sought to strengthen the state’s existing driving-while-texting laws. Under the new law, distracted driving is upgraded from a secondary to a primary traffic offense. This means that law enforcement can now pull drivers over for a distracted driving violation.
There is a six-month interim period for the new law. Over that time, police cannot issue primary offense citations for distracted driving. Instead, officials will give drivers a warning and inform them of the new laws. Officers can still make traffic stops for distracted driving during that six-month period.
Following the interim period, starting Oct. 5, distracted driving will be an unspecified misdemeanor. First-time violations are punishable by a fine of up to $150 and 2 points against your driver’s license. A second violation within two years can result in a fine of up to $250. Those fines are doubled while driving in a work zone.
Exemptions to the new law include:
- First responders using an electronic device in the course of their duties.
- Licensed radio operators.
- Utility workers in an outage or emergency situations.
- Commercial truck drivers operating a data terminal.
According to data from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, between 2018 and April 3, there have been 62,324 distracted driving-related incidents in Ohio. Of that number, 1,828 of those incidents resulted in fatalities.
Of course, these laws aren’t anything new to drivers of commercial vehicles. In May 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration established rulemaking that “restricts a CMV driver from holding a mobile device to make a call, or dialing by pressing more than a single button.”
The rulemaking also established steep fines and penalties for distracted driving for both drivers and employers. Fines can be up to $2,750 for drivers and up to $11,000 for employers who “allow or require drivers to use a handheld communications device while driving.” Repeat violations can result in driver disqualification.
FMCSA offers these tips to drivers to help maintain compliance with the regulation:
- Make sure the mobile telephone is within close enough proximity that it is operable while the driver is restrained by properly installed and adjusted seat belts.
- Use an earpiece or the speaker phone function.
- Use voice-activated dialing.
- Use the hands-free feature.
It is important to note that the rule applies to drivers operating a commercial motor vehicle on a roadway, including moving forward or temporarily stationary because of traffic, traffic control devices or other momentary delays. LL