Gov. DeWine Signs Distracted Driving Legislation
On Jan. 3, 2023, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine sign Senate Bill 288 (Manning) into law, which will make it a primary traffic offense to use a handheld electronic wireless communications device while driving.
"Right now, too many people are willing to risk their lives while behind the wheel to get a look at their phones, Gov. DeWine said during the bill signing. "My hope is that this legislation will prompt a cultural shift around distracted driving that normalizes the fact that distracted driving is dangerous, irresponsible and just as deadly as drunk driving."
The provisions in the original distracted driving bill, House Bill 283 (Abrams, Lampton), were added as an amendment to S.B. 288, Sen. Manning’s criminal justice reform bill during the final hours of the 134th General Assembly.
The bill will become effective 90 days from the signing date. When enacted, the provisions in S.B. 288 will make Ohio the 47th state in America to have primary enforcement laws for texting, and will significantly expand that enforcement to include watching, streaming, shopping, posting, gaming, or any interaction on a cellphone not subject to the stated exceptions. Those exceptions include holding a phone while the car is not in motion or holding the phone to your ear while driving.
The penalty for a violation includes a $150 fine or a distracted driving course on the first offense, a $250 fine for the second offense and $500 fine for the third offense within two years. The new law will have a six-month period where law enforcement will give warnings, then the bill will be fully enforced.
Provisions of Senate Bill 288
Technology has become a significant tool as part of our daily routines, and as such, this bill seeks to ensure reasonable use of in-vehicle technology while also eliminating the heightened risks of motor vehicle crashes and traffic fatalities. For example, S.B. 288 allows for a number of reasonable exceptions to the primary enforcement ban:
- Exempts drivers who are placing a call to law enforcement or emergency services for immediate assistance
- Permits drivers to reasonably utilize their vehicle’s touchscreen dashboard for the purposes of navigation, changing music or accepting a phone call (so long as drivers are not typing in letters/numbers while driving)
- Includes a “one-swipe” exception allowing drivers to tap on their hand-held electronic device for the purposes of navigation, changing music or accepting a phone call on the device’s speaker phone function (so long as drivers are not typing in letters/numbers while driving and are not physically holding the wireless device)
As an additional protection for all drivers, S.B. 288 will require law enforcement to document the race/ethnicity of individuals ticketed for these offenses so the state can ensure no racial or ethnic group is being unduly discriminated against with the implementation of this new law.
OII President Dean Fadel on Auto Smarts Radio
OII President Dean Fadel was a guest on Auto Smarts Radio where he discussed the dangers of distracted driving and the need for tougher distracted driving laws. Listen to his full interview below.
Traffic Fatalities Rising
Data from the Ohio State Highway Patrol indicates that traffic deaths rose by nearly 10% last year, from 1,230 in 2020 to 1,351 in 2021.
There were 11,910 distracted driving crashes in Ohio in 2021, up 8.2% from 11,006 in 2020.
Fatalities on Ohio’s roads have risen six of the past seven years. This rise is directly correlated to more people now having smartphones, leading to an increase in active distraction while behind the wheel.
The dangers of using a hand-held electronic device while driving include greater variability in speed, position within lane (i.e., weaving) and distance from car in front, and slower reaction times that increase the frequency and severity of collisions.
Distracted Driving Laws in Other States
Enacting tougher distracted driving laws has been a top priority for Gov. DeWine, who has helped bring awareness to the importance of this issue and educate lawmakers about the need for stronger distracted driving laws in Ohio.
States across the country that have moved forward with their own common-sense distracted driving laws have seen sharp decreases in traffic fatalities. In fact, of the 14 states that enacted these laws before 2018, 11 saw a decrease in their traffic fatality rates within two years after passing and enforcing new laws, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Indiana enacted hands-free legislation in July 2020 and since then, the state has seen the lowest number of distracted driving crashes in over a decade. Arizona’s hands-free law went into effect Dec. 31, 2020, and the state is now seeing fewer drivers on their phones. A survey from the Arizona Governor’s Office on Highway Safety found 90% of drivers were not using their phones while driving.
Distracted Driving's Deadly Toll on Pedestrians
Tragically, the number of motorists and pedestrians either injured or killed due to distracted driving has surged in the past three decades. Smartphones and other handheld electronic devices are known to be significant factors in these unfortunate and preventable accidents.
- During 2018 and 2019, pedestrian fatalities reached their highest in 30 years.
- Reported fatal crashes from distracted driving also nearly doubled since the early 1990s.
- In 2019, there were approximately 36,408 traffic fatalities nationwide, – 6,301 of which were pedestrians. That means pedestrians accounted for 17% of all traffic fatalities in 2019.
- During the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, pedestrian fatalities increased by 20%, and traffic fatalities remained consistent despite the 16.5% decrease in traffic volume throughout the year.
- Tragically, people of color have been shown to represent a disproportionate number of victims of pedestrian fatalities.
Distracted Driving is THE Biggest Concern for Ohio Drivers
According to a statewide poll commissioned by FOR Ohio and prepared by Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies, nearly half of Ohio drivers surveyed cited distracted driving as their biggest concern.
Support for Distracted Driving Laws
The survey results clearly show Ohio drivers are largely in favor of enacting a law to make distracted driving a primary offense. Overall, 78% of Ohio drivers said they favor a hands-free law that prohibits holding a phone to talk or text while driving, and 88% said they would obey the law. The survey results also show that 75% of Ohio drivers think distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.