DeWine signs distracted driving bill Tuesday


Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera and Hillsboro Police Chief Eric Daniels said that fully support Senate Bill 288, which Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed Tuesday in an effort to strengthen laws related to the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.

The bill contains several safety measures including a ban on using and holding a phone while driving.

“Signing this bill today is a great honor because this legislation will, without a doubt, prevent crashes and save lives,” said DeWine. “Right now, too many people are willing to risk their lives while behind the wheel to get a look at their phones. My hope is that this legislation will prompt a cultural shift around distracted driving that normalizes the fact that distracted driving is dangerous, irresponsible, and just as deadly as driving drunk.”

“I think it’s the number one problem right now,” said Daniels.

Barrera said, “I think it will help law enforcement everywhere with people who are being distracted drivers. You see it all the time — people going down the road texting and driving and looking at their phones — and it’s going to deter them.”

“To actually get up beside somebody where you can see them and going down the road meeting them in the opposite direction in town in Hillsboro will sure help the police department see people texting and be able to make a vehicle stop and deter people from doing it,” said Daniels.

The bill designates the use of cell phones and other electronic communications devices while driving as a primary offense for all drivers and allows law enforcement to immediately pull over a distracted driver upon witnessing a violation. Under the previous law, distracted driving was a primary offense only for juvenile drivers, preventing officers from stopping adult distracted drivers unless those drivers also committed a separate primary traffic violation, such as speeding or running a red light.

Although distracted driving is known to be under reported, the Ohio State Highway Patrol reports that there have been at least 73,945 distracted driving crashes in Ohio since 2017, including 2,186 fatal and serious injury crashes. Traffic fatalities overall increased in eight of nine years from 2013 to 2021, with deaths reaching their highest point in nearly two decades in 2021 with 1,355 fatalities. Preliminary traffic data from 2022 indicates that at least 1,269 people were killed in traffic crashes in Ohio last year.

“Certainly not all fatal traffic crashes are caused by distracted driving, but it’s no coincidence that evolving smartphone technology has coincided with increasing roadway deaths and injuries,” said DeWine. “Other states with similar distracted driving laws have experienced fewer fatal crashes, and we expect that this enhanced distracted driving law will have the same impact here.”

Under the new law, 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.

Senate Bill 288 will go into effect in 90 days. Law enforcement will issue warnings to drivers found violating the law for the first six months following the effective date. After this six-month grace period, law enforcement will have the authority to issue citations. Penalties include a fine of up to $150 for a 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.

Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.

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