COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Among the many bills Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law Tuesday morning was an extensive criminal justice reform bill that, among other things, makes distracted driving a primary offense.
While the bill is more than 1,000 pages, DeWine hung his hat on just one portion: the distracted driving change that he urged lawmakers to pass at his State of the State address last year.
“Distracted driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving is, and we need to treat it that way,” DeWine said.
Under previous law, police officers could not pull drivers over for being on their phone; the violation could rather be added to a person’s ticket, which would be filed for another violation such as running a red light.
“If we can eliminate distracted driving, we will save many, many, many lives,” DeWine said.
Senate Bill 288 makes distracted driving an individual offense. Under the new law, actively texting, scrolling on social media, or watching a video while driving a car could earn someone a ticket — and up to a $500 fine. The fine breakdown is as follows:
- First offense: $150
- Second offense: $250
- Three offenses (within two years): $500
“Distracted driving is unsafe and irresponsible,” Superintendent of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Col. Charles Jones said. “And in a split, second the consequences can be devastating.”
While DeWine said not every traffic fatality is caused by distracted driving, increasing numbers cannot be ignored. Traffic fatalities have increased each year since 2013, he said.
“It’s certainly no coincidence that evolving smart phone technology has coincided with increasing roadway deaths and serious injuries,” DeWine said.
Jones said when someone does get pulled over for distracted driving, it will be definitive.
“Our troopers are always making sure that whatever action they take, whether its distracted driving or another action, that they know without a doubt that the offense was committed,” Col. Jones said.
The bill goes into effect in 90 days, but for the first six months after it becomes law, there will be a grace period where law enforcement will only issues warnings.