Explainer: What’s Prohibited by Distracted Driving Law

COLUMBUS. A new distracted driving law passed by the Ohio General Assembly and expected to be signed into law by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine places new limits on what drivers can and cannot do with electronic devices while driving.

That’s because a recent investigation by the Dayton Daily News found that 2022 could be the deadliest year in years in terms of traffic accidents and distracted driving deaths in Ohio, with a series of accidents earlier this month causing nine local residents died in six days.

The new law makes most cases of holding a cell phone or similar device while driving a predicate offence, meaning that police can stop drivers for doing so without needing another reason. But officers have to actually watch someone break the law in order to stop them.

The law will also raise penalties for using gadgets while driving. Officers cannot search someone’s phone for use without a warrant or if the driver does not consent to the search.

During the first six months of the law, offenders will get off with warnings while the state conducts a massive educational campaign.

Here is an overview of the legislation that DeWine has expressed support for and is expected to sign into law:

What is allowed, prohibited and excluded?

• You are allowed to hold a mobile phone to your ear, but you cannot look into a pocket phone.

• Drivers are allowed to swipe the screen in one motion (eg answer a call).

• The use of an online map or navigation device is acceptable if it is attached to the dashboard or console and not in the hand.

• Police, other first responders and public utility workers are released.

• The two-way radio used by the amateur radio service is also known as “amateur radio”.

What can and cannot the police do?

• The police can only stop drivers for using a portable electronic device.

• But they need to see how the driver uses it.

• Police officers cannot search an electronic device for recent use unless they have a warrant or the driver gives them permission to do so.

• Police agencies will be required to track and report racial data on anyone they stop for distracted driving.

How will people know?

• Drivers will be required to sign a statement about the new law when obtaining or renewing their license.

• Driving lessons and answers to driving tests will cover the standards.

• Signs on some highways and at the state line will warn drivers of the new law.

• The state plans to conduct a public information campaign before the law goes into full force.

• During the first six months of the law, the police can only issue written warnings to violators, giving people time to learn and adjust to the new rules.

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