New Ohio law to make distracted driving a primary offense

Noah Rowe, TV2 Reporter

Addison Foreman, Reporter

A new state distracted driving law, which allows police to pull over individuals for using phones while driving, was signed by Governor Mike DeWine Jan. 3. The law will go into effect April 4.

The law will allow adult drivers to be charged with distracted driving as a primary offense.

Under the previous law, police officers could not pull over an adult driver for distracted driving and could only cite them if pulled over for another offense, such as speeding. Texting or being on a device while driving was considered a secondary offense for adults and a primary offense for juveniles.

“Having it as a secondary violation really, really fell short,” Administrative Lieutenant Michael Lewis of the Kent Police Department said. “By doing this and making it a primary violation, it’s putting a lot of emphasis on it, and it’s actually giving law enforcement the power to enforce it and hopefully prevent this.”

Freshman managerial marketing major Connor Smith said he was in favor of the new law to hopefully prevent accidents.

“I think that is a great thing,” Smith said. “I mean, it’s not going to stop. Nothing’s going to change. But, you know, hopefully it would give at least a few people a scare.”

Smith has directly experienced the impact of distracted driving. He said he grew up on the same street as someone who got into a distracted driving accident that paralyzed them from the neck down.

When Smith learned to drive, his father enforced strict guidelines on distracted driving.

“My father made me put that … thing in the glove box every single time,” Smith said.

There are some exceptions to the law, however. Talking on the phone while driving is still legal in the state.

“It is still legal to drive with your phone in your hand held up to your ear,” Lewis said. “Now it prohibits you from texting while driving and having your eyes looking down at that phone or in front of your face while you’re operating a motor vehicle.”

Distracted driving has been a prevalent issue on the road for several years now.

“Within the past four years, they’ve had 60,263 accidents that directly involved distracted driving. Of those, 1,774 were fatal or serious crashes,” Sergeant Tricia Knoles of the Kent State University Police said. “And that is all from distracted driving, and that is just in the state of Ohio.”

Police will be able to start pulling drivers over for distracted driving and issue warnings starting in April. There will be a six-month grace period where citations are not yet issued. Until then, police officers are trying to educate drivers on the new law.

“During those six months, when we observe a violation, we will make stops, and we will educate drivers and we will issue them a warning,” Lewis said. “It goes a long way to make the roads a lot safer and reminding people the importance of paying 100% attention to their driving and not being distracted by their electronic devices, specifically their cell phones.”

Addison Foreman is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]