Gov. DeWine wants to make using a hand-held devices while driving a primary offense

Posted at 10:55 AM, Feb 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-13 16:04:22-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday new State Senate legislation aimed at further deterring Ohio drivers from using hand-held mobile devices while driving, according to a news release.

After introducing roughly a dozen Ohio residents who have lost family members to distracted-driving crashes, DeWine said he wants to change the way Ohio drivers think differently about how they use wireless devices on the road.

"Smartphones are an amazing thing," DeWine said during Thursday's news conference. "They've revolutionized the way we communicate. I have one, and it's likely that everyone here today has one. And frankly, it's also likely that many of us have used our phone while driving."

Under current Ohio law, using a cell phone while driving is a secondary offense, and police have to see you commit a primary offense like speeding or weaving in and out of lanes before they can cite you for using a cell phone. Under Cincinnati's municipal code, using a hand-held device behind the wheel is a primary offense.

DeWine wants to change that.

"Although we have found that Ohio's current law for texting and driving was certainly well-intended, it hasn't changed the culture in Ohio," he said. "Right now, if an officer sees a driver texting or emailing, unless they commit another offense, that officer can do absolutely nothing. That needs to change."

State legislators announced last month House Bill 468, which would change the state revised code to classify hand-held devices behind the wheel as a primary offense statewide, but that bill has met some resistance from civil rights organizations like the ACLU of Ohio.

The bill DeWine introduced Thursday, sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and Sen. Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta), also would make the use of a hand-held device a primary offense statewide.

Under the bill, dubbed the "Hands-Free Ohio" bill, drivers would be prohibited from using a hand-held wireless device while driving to:

  • send text messages
  • check email
  • browse social media sites
  • watch or record a video
  • take a photograph
  • live stream a video on social media
  • look at images
  • enter information into an app (such as typing an address into a GPS service)
  • dial a phone number

"Bottom line, most everything you do with a wireless device while driving will be off limits," DeWine said. "We are confident that by taking the phones out of drivers' hands, we will change distracted driving behaviors in Ohio, and we know that this will save lives."

DeWine mentioned some exceptions to the proposed new law:

  • if the vehicle is stationary and outside the lane of traffic
  • if there is an emergency
  • all calls made using a speaker phone and done without using one's hands

Thursday's news release indicated that the Ohio State Highway Patrol attributes a recent increase in fatal crashes to using smartphones while driving. Provisional data show that 2019 was the second-deadliest year on Ohio roads over the past decade, the release stated.

"Let me point out the obvious," DeWine said. "Each year, we have more and more cars that are safer and safer on our roads. So what we should be seeing is a rather dramatic reduction in road fatalities in the state of Ohio. It is abundantly clear that one of the main reasons we are not seeing that -- and, in fact, some years we're seeing an increase in auto fatalities -- is because of distracted driving."