The ringing in of the New Year brought with it a substantial change to the way officers can enforce laws aimed at distracted driving.
The Ohio Legislature passed Senate Bill 288 which is expected to be signed by the Governor. Among its many provisions is an amendment to Ohio’s existing distracted driving statute which makes a suspected violation a primary offense. This means that an officer can initiate a traffic stop if the operator of a motor vehicle is observed holding an electronic wireless communications device. The previous version of the law classified the offense as a secondary offense which meant that the officer had to observe a separate traffic violation before stopping the vehicle.
The new law specifically prohibits a driver from “holding or physically supporting with any part of the person’s body” an electronic wireless communications device (i.e. cell phone). If you are ticketed solely for this offense, there will be a fine of up to $150.00; the driver may avoid the fine by completing a distracted driving safety course. Fines and points assessed to your license increase with the number of violations.
The law has a number of exceptions that were added by amendment but the defenses do not arise until a citation is issued and you appear in court. Of greater concern is that the initial stop for holding a cell phone can lead to other more serious offenses.
If you are ticketed or facing more serious traffic or criminal charges, meet with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
UPDATE: The Governor has announced that warnings will be issued for the first six months once the law becomes effective in order to educate the public about the new law. While you may receive a warning for the distracted driving violation, it is still part of a traffic stop for which an officer may cite or arrest you for other offenses.