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Legally Speaking: Ohio's New Distracted Driving Law

How often do you drive down the road watching the car in front of you swerving only to find as you pass that the driver is texting, talking on the cell phone, or eating a Big Mac. The situation is out of control and Ohio is just one of 48 states cracking down by expanding restrictions. Ohio’s new law, effective April 4, strictly limits the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle. The law states that “No person shall operate a motor vehicle on any street, highway or property open to the public for vehicular traffic while using, holding, or physically supporting with any part of the person’s body an electronic communication device.” Exceptions exist for:

  • Emergency calls to law enforcement and other agencies;

  • Merely holding the device to one’s ear but not manually operating it (and touching or swiping it only to start or end call);

  • Utilizing the speaker phone or GPS navigation function provided one does not hold or support the device;

  • Using a device when the vehicle is stationary and outside the lane of travel or at a traffic light;

  • Using a feature of the device with a single touch or single swipe provided no other manual operation is performed; and

  • Operating a commercial vehicle while using a mobile data terminal.

Of course, texting and digital dialing is strictly prohibited, along with holding the device and entering letters, numbers or symbols.

A six month grace period from April 4 will be granted by law enforcement and, while you may still be pulled over, you will only be issued a warning. The new law allows law enforcement to stop any driver if the driver is observed using, holding, or physically supporting a cell phone. But, law enforcement will not be able to search the electronic device for evidence of recent use without a warrant or permission of the driver.

Violators can be cited up to $150 for the first offense and assessed two points on their driving record, a second offense within two years carries a fine of $250 and three points, with a third offense causing up to a $500 fine, four points and a 90 day license suspension.

Remember, you may be in violation of the law for:

  • Holding your phone in your hand in order to send or read a text or email;

  • Using one hand to type a message while supporting the phone on your leg;

  • Scrolling through Facebook.

Come April, employers should have an updated distracted driving policy if their employees operate vehicles while conducting business. The reason for this is that while Ohio does not have a specific statute mandating such, OSHA requires employers to identify recognized hazards and to take appropriate measures to abate them under Section 5(a)(1) – General Duty Clause. And, under Ohio law, employers may be exposed

to general civil liability causes of action when their employees improperly use electronic devices and harm others while driving on business. Because a driver is 23 times more likely to be in an accident when texting, while only being six times as likely to crash when driving under the influence, a recognized hazard probably exists and employers should take reasonable efforts to abate it. A well-written policy should be adopted now to conform to Ohio’s new law and employees should receive some training on what the employer expects and your state law demands of them.

For a sample distracted driving policy, contact Bob Dunlevey, Board Certified Specialist in Labor and Employment Law, at (937) 641-1743 or email


DRMA members are eligible to receive one free legal consultation per month from employment law attorney Bob Dunlevey. If you need legal advice concerning labor, safety, real estate, or other business issues, give Bob a call at (937) 641-1743. Be sure to identify yourself as a DRMA member.

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