(WJW) — A six-month grace period for drivers caught with their cell phones in hand is over.
The state’s new distracted driving law took effect April 4, making the use of cell phones or other devices while driving a primary offense — something for which police can now pull you over and write a ticket.
But for the past six months, police officers were expected to only give warnings, while motorists adjusted to the new rule. Now, on Thursday, Oct. 5, they’ll start actually issuing citations.
Here’s what you can’t do while driving:
Drivers younger than 18 years old can’t use their phones at all — not even if they’re hands-free.
But for everyone 18 and older, it’s still illegal to:
- Text a message (hands-free voice-to-text is OK)
- Dial a phone number
- Browse the internet or social media
- Play games
- Watch videos (GPS or navigational displays are OK)
- Make video calls
- Record or stream video
There are a few exceptions:
- You can still hold your phone to your ear while talking, so long as you can start and end the call with a single touch or swipe.
- You can also use it while stopped at a light or parked on a road or highway during an emergency closure.
- Using a phone to report an emergency to authorities or medical providers is OK.
Workers in some professions are also cleared to use such devices as needed, like first responders, utility workers responding to emergencies or outages, licensed operators using amateur radios, or commercial truck drivers using mobile data terminals.
Here’s what’s OK to do while driving:
You can still talk on the phone using a speakerphone, an earpiece or wireless headset, your watch, or by connecting your phone to the vehicle, such as via Bluetooth — anything that doesn’t require actually touching the phone.
Audiobooks and music streaming apps are OK, but you have to hit “Play” before hitting the road.
What are the penalties?
- For the first offense, it’s two points on your license and a fine of up to $150.
- For the second offense, it’s three points and a fine of up to $250.
- All subsequent offenses are each four points, with fines of up to $500 and a possible 90-day license suspension.
The fines are doubled if you’re in a work zone.
Drivers who accrue 12 or more points in two years face a six-month license suspension. They have to complete a remedial driving course, retake their driving exam and show proof of insurance to get it reinstated.
Motorists caught breaking the new law can complete a distracted driving course to avoid the fine and points.
Is the new law having an effect?
Ohio has had more than 66,000 crashes involving distracted drivers since 2018, according to a state dashboard. Of those, more than a dozen were fatal and more than 150 were believed to have caused serious injury.
Cuyahoga County led the state in distracted driving crashes from 2018 to 2022, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
The number of crashes has decreased nearly every year, from 13,713 crashes in 2018, to 10,281 in 2022 and 6,284 so far in 2023.
In more than a third of the crashes statewide, the driver was 15 to 24 years old, according to the dashboard.