phone car

A new distracted driving law went into effect on Tuesday in Ohio, making it a primary offense for drivers to hold their electronic devices or have them in their laps while operating a vehicle. This law is not just limited to phones – it applies to all devices.

Under the Ohio Revised Code, anything that requires more than a single swipe on an electronic device is now illegal. Everything from playing games to dialing a phone number to video calls to sending text messages is prohibited under this law. Hands-free and Bluetooth technologies will still be allowed.

This law, while in effect, will not result in a ticket or fine for drivers until October per the six-month grace period that the legislation includes.

With any law, there are exceptions for when a device may be used behind the wheel. This includes situations of emergencies outlined by the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

  • Drivers reporting an emergency to law enforcement, a hospital, health care provider, fire department, or similar emergency entity.

  • Drivers holding a phone to their ear only during phone conversations if the call is started or stopped with a single touch or swipe.

  • Drivers holding or using cell phones and other electronic devices while stopped at a traffic light or parked on a road or highway during an emergency or road closure.

  • First responders (law enforcement, fire, EMS) using electronic devices as part of their official duties.

  • Utility workers operating utility vehicles in certain emergency or outage situations.

  • Licensed operators using amateur radio.

  • Commercial truck drivers using a mobile data terminal.

"Distracted driving crashes aren't accidents, they're the result of drivers who make the choice to divert their attention away from the road and risk their lives and the lives of everyone around them," Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a press release on Monday. "Far too many people have been seriously injured and killed in Ohio because of poor choices behind the wheel, and we are certain that this new law will influence positive changes in behavior and save lives as a result."

This year alone, there have been both fatalities and serious injuries due to distracted driving. Nationally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 3,000 distracted driving-related crashes where there will be a fatality.

In Ohio alone, there have been 28 fatal crashes since April 1, 2022, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Those fatalities are just a small portion of the over 12,100 crashes that Ohio saw due to distracted driving from January 2022 to now.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol also identifies I-75, a main highway nearest the University of Cincinnati (UC), as a route where distracted driving is most prevalent for fatalities and distracted driving crashes.

Along with this new legislation comes an educational campaign with a website, new billboards and social media programming to reinforce the law. Radio and television ads will also work to convey this message to Ohioans, according to the press release.

Drivers coming from Kentucky and Indiana should note the differences in distracted laws from state to state.

"This new law is about changing behavior," Andy Wilson, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said in the press release. "Drivers need to be more responsible for their own safety and to keep from harming others on our roads." 

News Director

Allison Kiehl has worked with The News Record since 2021 as a contributor, news reporter, and in her current position as news director. Previously, she interned with Cincinnati Magazine as an editorial intern.