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Ohio’s New Texting and Driving Law

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On January 3rd, 2023, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 288 (“SB 288”) into law. This 500-page bill makes sweeping changes to numerous aspects of criminal law and the justice system. The bill also creates some new criminal offenses that did not previously exist in Ohio. The new laws take effect in April.

Under the previous laws, distracted driving was a primary offense only for juvenile drivers. Police could not pull over distracted adult drivers unless those drivers committed a separate traffic violation, such as speeding or running a red light. SB 288 designates the use of cell phones and other electronic communications devices while driving as a primary traffic offense for all drivers and allows law enforcement to immediately pull over a distracted driver upon witnessing a violation.

The new law does have a few exceptions. A driver may still use their device in specific circumstances, such as when their vehicle is parked or stopped at a red light. Drivers are also permitted to swipe their phones to answer a call and to hold their phones to their ears during phone conversations. Emergency calls are also permitted in all circumstances.

When a law enforcement officer stops a vehicle, they are required to inform the driver that they may decline a search of their electronic wireless communications device. The officer cannot do any of the following: (a) Access the device without a warrant, unless the operator voluntarily gives consent for the officer to access the device; (b) Confiscate the device while awaiting the issuance of a warrant to access the device; (c) Obtain consent from the operator to access the device through coercion or any other improper means. The law makes clear that any consent by the operator to access the device must be voluntary and unequivocal before the officer may access the device without a warrant.

Senate Bill 288 will go into effect on April 4th, 2023. Law enforcement will issue warnings to drivers found violating the law for the first six months. After this grace period, law enforcement will have the authority to issue official citations. Penalties include a fine of up to $150 for a driver’s first offense and two points on their license unless a distracted driving safety course is completed.  Increased penalties can occur if the driver is a repeat offender.

Given this new law, now is the time to figure out how to use the hands-free feature on your phone or car.

Weston Hurd partner Paul M. Shipp focuses his practice on white collar criminal defense, criminal defense, business litigation, and general civil litigation. Paul received his B.A. from Bowling Green State University and obtained his J.D. from Cleveland State University College of Law. He can be reached at pshipp@westonhurd.com or 216-687-3298.