A new Ohio law which bans texting while driving, adopted in late 2012, will officially take effect on March 22, 2013. The law prohibits adult drivers from operating a vehicle while writing, sending, or reading a text-based communication on a handheld electronic wireless communications device, subject to certain narrow exceptions summarized below. It further prohibits any use of an electronic wireless communication for any purpose by anyone 18 and under, subject again to certain narrow exceptions.
The law is only a secondary offense for adult drivers, meaning that law enforcement officers cannot stop adult drivers for the sole purpose of determining whether they have violated the law. Rather, law enforcement officials would need another reason to stop and cite violators. The penalty for adult drivers caught texting while driving is $150. § ORC 4511.204
Drivers 18 and under
The new law is applied more stringently against drivers that are 18 and under because they are prohibited from any use involving an electronic wireless communications device. Since violation is considered a primary offense for drivers under 18, they can be stopped for any use of their electronic wireless communication regardless of whether another traffic offense has been observed. The penalty for individuals 18 and under who are cited for texting while driving or any other unlawful use of an electronic wireless communication device is severe. The first offense will result in a $150 fine and a 60 day license suspension. Further citations will carry a $300 fine and a license suspension of up to a year. § ORC 4511.205
There are several exceptions for individuals using a handheld electronic wireless communications device for emergency purposes, such as contacting a law enforcement agency, hospital or healthcare provider, as well as individuals who use public safety vehicles and use communications devices in the course of their duties. The law also recognizes that individuals will not be targeted if texting in a vehicle that is stationary and is outside a lane of travel, as well as individuals using a handheld electronic wireless communications device in conjunction with a voice operated or hands-free device feature.
Ohio Law does not Invalidate Stricter City Ordinances
The new statewide ban on texting does not invalidate, preempt or supersede current city ordinances that impose stricter restrictions on drivers than the new law does. The new Ohio law merely serves as a baseline. The ordinances of several municipalities, including the City of Cleveland, have prohibited the use of all handheld electronic wireless communications device regardless of the driver’s age. It is unclear whether the narrow exemptions contained in the state law will be recognized by those municipalities which already have enacted texting-while-driving and similar bans.