WHITEHALL, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio’s new distracted driving law will take effect in less than a month.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law in January. The law turns texting or scrolling and driving into a primary offense — prior to this law, it was only a primary offense for people younger than 18 years old.
“People don’t realize how dangerous it is until they run into the back of a family that’s stopped in the middle of the roadway for a red light, and the person behind them was looking at their phone texting and didn’t have any idea traffic was stopped,” said Sgt. Jon Earl, with the Whitehall Division of Police.
With that form of distracted driving now a primary offense, it can be the only reason law enforcement pulls a driver over.
Any time there is a change to an existing law or new law, Earl said they work on training and education with officers. This law, however, isn’t totally new.
“We’ve actually had something similar on the books, previously to this,” he said. “We actually have a local ordinance for driving without full time and attention that we’ve had around for quite a while.”
Since 2017, more than 73,000 distracted driving crashes have occurred, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Police do not want to see any more.
“It’s a major issue, just driving down the road you can see — especially following somebody — you can tell they’re looking at their phone, you know they’re all over the road,” Earl said. “It causes accidents all over the city.”
Commander Victor Boyd, with the Madison Township Police Department, said that as the law’s April effective date gets closer, conversations are underway with shift supervisors and officers about it.
“That’ll give us officers and officers in this state another tool in their belt. When we see these people, we can now take action. Before, we had to wait on them to make another primary offense,” he said.
For the first six months after the law is in effect, law enforcement will only be issuing warnings. After that, a fine for a first offense is $150, with repeated offenders potentially seeing higher fines.