New Ohio Bill Would Allow $100 Fine for Distracted Driving

It soon could become even more expensive to text or tweet while driving in Ohio. According to Dayton Daily News, state representatives recently introduced a new bill that would “add a $100 penalty on top of other fines for moving violations if the driver was distracted by a ‘handheld’ electronic communications device….”

The new fine would apply to any type of distracted driving, which includes using a smartphone while behind the wheel, but may also include engaging in personal grooming or even eating while driving, since these activities are also classified as distractions. The only exception would be using hands-free devices.

Those ticketed for the offense would have an alternative to paying the fine: taking a distracted driver safety course.

Distracted Driving Increases in Ohio Between 2014 and 2015

The bill was introduced by Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) who hope to encourage safer driving on the roads.

“What we’re trying to do is keep people’s hands on the wheel,” Hughes told This Week News. If the new bill were passed, law enforcement officers would be allowed to cite drivers for distracted driving in conjunction with another moving violation.

According to the Ohio State Patrol, in 2015, a total of 13,261 drivers in Ohio crashed while being distracted by something inside their vehicles. The number of reported distracted drivers increased between 2014 and 2015 by 11 percent, resulting in 43 deaths.

Though using a phone was not the most common distraction—eating, drinking, and interacting with passengers was—24 percent of all distracted drivers were using a phone or texting/emailing.

Worse, cell phone use made up for 41 percent of fatal crashes, up from 31 percent in 2014.

Some Cities in Ohio Have Already Banned Cell Phone Use While Driving

Current Ohio law bans texting while driving for all drivers, but only as a secondary offense. In other words, a driver can’t be cited for texting while driving alone. He or she has to be cited for another offense as well, such as speeding or running a stoplight.

This wouldn’t change if the new bill were to be approved. Officers would be allowed to cite a driver for distraction only in conjunction with another traffic offense. Neither would the violation add points to the driver’s driving record. Hughes emphasized that the goal was not to be hard-line, but to simply encourage drivers to concentrate on their driving.

This bill was actually first introduced in the last session, but it died in the House, so the representatives have now re-introduced it. If the bill is passed, it will not override local legislation that calls for stiffer penalties. Some cities like Bexley, for example, have completely banned cellphone use while driving, and have made it a primary offense.

Ohio currently has a statewide texting while driving ban, though there have been some reports on enforcement difficulties. Drivers under the age of 18 are also currently prohibited from using any electronic device while behind the wheel, and primary enforcement is allowed for such cases.