Ohio drivers could have new restrictions when getting behind the wheel if a bill seeking to ban cell phone use in some areas and make texting while driving a primary traffic offense gains support in the legislature.
House Bill 637, sponsored by State Representative Rex Damschroder, would prohibit the use of any electronic wireless communication device in a school zone during hours when children are present and in a construction zone during hours of actual work.
This means drivers would not be allowed to talk on the phone or use a handheld electronic device for any reason in those areas. Texas and Arkansas already have banned cell phone use in school zones. Illinois also banned cell phone use while driving in both zones before banning it all together.
The proposed bill also would make reading or writing a text-based message a primary offense for all drivers. For example, if a person is stopped at a red light and he or she decides to send a text message, the driver could be ticketed if a law enforcement officer witnesses it.
The traffic offense would be considered a minor misdemeanor. The penalties for the offense could include a fine of $150 and a class seven driver's license suspension. Under this suspension, an Ohio driver may lose the right to legally get behind the wheel for up to one year.
The proposed law is slightly different from what the state currently has in place. As of now, texting while driving in Ohio is a violation, but it is a secondary offense for adults. This means drivers must be stopped for another offense before they can be ticketed for illegally texting.
For instance, a driver cannot be pulled over only for texting while driving. Because it is a secondary offense, the driver must be suspected of committing a primary offense, such as speeding or reckless operation, before he or she could be stopped. Once stopped, a ticket can be issued for texting while driving.
Currently there are several instances in which texting while driving laws do not apply. These also would be exempt under the new law. A person using a device for emergency purposes would not be ticketed. The emergency purpose could include contacting law enforcement, a hospital or a fire department.
Drivers who use handheld communication devices in the course of his or her duties in a public safety vehicle, such as a law enforcement officer, and those who use devices for their jobs while operating commercial trucks also would not be included in the texting while driving ban.
Some people have been concerned this bill will conflict with drivers who use their mobile devices for navigation. However, the new bill, just as the existing law, would exclude drivers from facing texting while driving charges if he or she is using the device as a GPS.
The accusation of texting while driving can carry a heavy social stigma as law enforcement agencies throughout the country try to decrease the use of electronic devices while driving. Proving the crime can be hard, and a criminal defense attorney can help you build a defense.
For more information about the proposed legislation, read House Bill 637 here.