Nearly every state has a law on the books that bans texting while driving. What kind of impact have the bans actually had on the nation’s traffic fatalities? The short answer is, “not enough.”
You may have seen posts on Facebook recently that have mentioned changes in Ohio’s laws for the year 2020. Below is the most up-to-date information:
No new cell phone/text ban laws take effect January 1, 2020. However, Ohio is one of several states cracking down on distracted driving. “Distracted driving” is defined as:
…engaging in any activity that is not necessary to the operation of a vehicle and impairs, or reasonably would be expected to impair, the ability of the operator to drive the vehicle safely.
A new law went into effect last October giving police the authority to issue tickets for any distracted driving, not just texting. Other offenses that police may cite drivers for include:
- distractions from pets in the vehicle
- applying make-up
- eating while driving
The definition of distracted driving is left intentionally broad. Whether an activity counts as “distracted driving” is basically left to the discretion of the law enforcement officer and the Courts.
Can you be pulled over for distracted driving?
For adult drivers over the age of 18, distracted driving is a secondary offense, meaning that police cannot make a traffic stop simply because they think they see you texting behind the wheel. However, if they observe any other traffic offense and believe that you were distracted at the time of the infraction, they will likely cite you for distracted driving as an add-on offense.
For example, if they notice a marked lanes violation, failure to yield, failure to use a turn signal, or any other infringement (no matter how minor), they can pull you over and cite you for a primary traffic offense as well as distracted driving.
Drivers Under Age 18
Drivers under the age of 18 may still be pulled over simply for distracted driving as a primary offense. Drivers under the age of 18 and drivers on a temporary instruction permit are not permitted to use a cellphone while driving at all. Even hands-free use of cell phones is not permitted for the underage driver.
What are the consequences of a distracted driving charge?
Distracted driving is charged as a minor misdemeanor, a low-level traffic offense. However, even a minor misdemeanor traffic offense may cause an increase in your insurance rates. It can also have consequences for those who drive for a living and those who need a CDL for their jobs.
Fines for distracted driving can run as high as $150, even for first-time offenders. Drivers may also have to pay fees associated with other offenses stemming from the stop, in addition to Court costs.
Several Ohio cities have their own laws about texting and driving, so the law may be more restrictive depending on where you live. This is important to recognize for drivers who are just “passing through” different areas on the highway or visiting from out of town.
In most instances, this involves changing distracted driving to a primary offense for all drivers, regardless of age.
Exceptions to the law
According to Ohio traffic law, the texting and distracted driving laws do not apply if the driver:
- is using an electronic device for emergency purposes
- is operating a device with hands-free technology
- is in a vehicle that is stopped and outside the lane of travel
- is simply entering a phone number to make a call
- is using a device for navigational purposes
- is operating a commercial truck while using a mobile data transmitter
- is operating a utility service vehicle in response to an emergency
This is just the beginning
Currently, 16 states completely ban cell phones for all drivers. If someone is killed in Alaska due to texting while driving, the responsible party may face 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Utah, Oregon, Indiana and Maine also have stiff penalties, often for repeat offenses.
The reality is, fatal accidents involving distracted driving are on the rise, leading many lawmakers to consider it on the same level as drunk driving.