Texting While Driving May Become Primary Offense in Ohio

Posted On: December 9th, 2014 by Bradley J. Groene

It’s already illegal to text while driving in Ohio, but it’s currently a secondary offense for drivers over age 18, meaning a police officer has to observe some other illegal behavior — such as speeding or driving with expired license plates — to pull you over. However, a bill pending in the Ohio General Assembly would make texting while driving a primary offense and allow police to pull you over and cite you solely for that violation.

Ohio Rev. Code 4511.204 makes it a minor misdemeanor to drive while using a “handheld wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication.” A minor misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of $150 and a 60-day driver’s license suspension.

The law has been in effect since March 2013, but some state lawmakers say it doesn’t go far enough. The original bill outlawing texting and driving would have made it a primary offense, but the state Senate struck that language.

State Rep. Rex Damschroder of Fremont introduced House Bill 637 to elevate texting while driving to a primary offense. He told TV station WOIO in Toledo that public health data shows that states where texting while driving is a primary offense have seen a drop in driving fatalities. Texting while driving already is a primary offense for minors behind the wheel, and drivers under 18 are banned from using any kind of mobile communications device while driving.

House Bill 637 also includes language that amends Ohio Rev. Code 4511.205 to make it a minor misdemeanor for any person to use a cell phone while driving in a school zone or construction zone.

Data does support that texting while driving raises the risk of getting into a crash, but opponents of the bill have raised some questions about how a change in the law would be enforced. For example, how can a police officer tell that someone is texting compared to some other lawful activity that involves reaching down in a way that might look like the driver is texting?

The primary offense language was stricken from the texting while driving bill when it was passed in 2012 in part because it lacked the support of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. When police don’t support making a violation a primary offense, should lawmakers? It may be a moot question since the bill has yet to make it to a floor vote.

If you’ve been charged with a traffic violation, the Cincinnati criminal defense attorneys at Luftman, Heck & Associates can help. Call our office today at (513) 338-1890 for a free consultation.