When Is Texting and Driving a Primary Offense in Ohio?

Post By Corey Heit

To answer the question in the title directly, no. Texting and driving is not a primary offense in Ohio. This does not mean that drivers are allowed to text and drive with impunity in the Buckeye State. Nor does relegating texting and driving to a secondary offense mean that drivers can avoid being held liable for causing crashes and injuries or deaths while they were distracted by sending or reading text messages.

What the Law Says as of 2020

In 2012, Ohio lawmakers made it illegal for drivers to use “a handheld electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication” while their car or truck was in motion. Exceptions apply, but the law, which is designated as section 4511.204 of the Ohio Revised Code, has been strengthened over the years.

One of the most recent updates, however, made it clear that police officers and state troopers cannot stop and ticket a driver just for texting. Any citation for using a handheld device in a moving vehicle must be issued after a stop was made for suspicion of some other alleged moving violation such as speeding, failing to yield right of way, or crossing a lane line.

A driver who is cited for texting while driving in Ohio can attempt several defenses. The statute includes exemptions for, among other things, dialing, using a smartphone app to get directions, or reporting a crash or other emergency situation.

Why the Texting and Driving Law Still Matters

Passing a law that discourages texting and driving has the potential to lower rates of distracted driving. Driver distraction is one of the leading causes of crashes, and studies have shown that it takes as little as three seconds of distraction to set the stage for a collision.

Typing, sending, and reading text messages hit the trifecta of driver distraction. Each action takes the driver’s eyes and mind off the road. At the same time, the driver’s hands come off the wheel. At highway speeds or in city traffic, being disengaged from the act of driving and not maintaining control of one’s vehicle can quickly turn into a deadly situation.

As a Columbus texting while driving lawyer, therefore, it saddened but did not surprise me when the Governors Highway Safety Association reported that pedestrian deaths in the United States hit a 30-year high during 2019. Among the causes for this spike in fatalities, the GHSA cited “Many unsafe driving behaviors—such as speeding, distracted and drowsy driving [which] pose risks to pedestrians.”

So, texting while driving is far from the only dangerous behavior drivers exhibit. But a rise in crashes that left pedestrian hospitalized or dead has coincided with the rise in smartphone use since 2010. Also, texting is right up there with drinking and getting high as the easiest accident risks to avoid. Few things should be simpler than putting one’s smartphone out of reach or turning it off during a typically short trip to work, school, or the store. If the phone must stay on, numerous hands-free options exist, and talk-to-text apps have improved dramatically.

If you need a lawyer in or around Columbus to help you after you got injured by a texting driver, consider reaching out to Corey Heit of Heit Law. Based in Westerville, Corey advises and represents clients throughout Franklin County. You can schedule a free consultation online or speak with Corey by calling (614) 898-5300.

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