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Ohio Distracted Driving Tickets: Not Just for Texting Anymore

Do you ever find yourself doing something with your hands other than steering while driving? Looking at your phone, eating, putting on makeup, or reaching back to help a child? You could soon find yourself stuck with a ticket. 

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When Ohio troopers say they intend to hand out an increased number of distracted driving citations, we're here to tell you: they mean it. In our practice in Warren, Butler, Montgomery, and Greene Counties, Dearie, Fischer & Mathews has seen an increased number of distracted driving citations -- and not just for texting.

Ohio is one of several states cracking down on distracted driving. In a traffic law now in effect, "distracted driving" includes "engaging in any activity that is not necessary to the operation of a vehicle and impairs, or reasonably would be expected to impair, the ability of the operator to drive the vehicle safely."

This expands the Ohio law, effective since 2012, that prohibits texting while driving.

With the rise of smartphones, tablets, and other devices competing for drivers' attention, distracted driving has become a priority of both law enforcement and legislators. A new law went into effect last October giving police the authority to issue tickets for any distracted driving, not just texting or scrolling. Other offenses that police may cite drivers for include distractions from pets in the vehicle or eating while driving.

Can you be pulled over for texting while driving or other distractions?

Adult Drivers

For adult drivers over the age of 18, distracted driving is a secondary offense, meaning that police cannot make a traffic stop simply because they think they see you texting behind the wheel. However, if they observe any other traffic offense and believe that you were distracted at the time of the infraction, they will likely cite you for distracted driving as an add-on offense. For example, if they notice a marked lanes violation, failure to yield, failure to use a turn signal, or any other infringement, no matter how minor, they can pull you over and cite you for a primary traffic offense as well as distracted driving.

Drivers Under Age 18

Drivers under the age of 18 may still be pulled over simply for distracted driving as a primary offense. In other words, if you are under 18 and the only offense the traffic officer has observed is that you are texting or talking on the phone, or are otherwise distracted in anyway, you can be pulled offer and cited for a traffic infringement. Drivers under the age of 18 and drivers on a temporary instruction permit are not permitted to use a cellphone while driving at all. Even hands-free use of cell phones is not permitted for the underage driver.

What are the consequences of a distracted driving charge?

Distracted driving is charged as a minor misdemeanor, a low-level traffic offense. However, even a minor misdemeanor traffic offense may cause an increase in your insurance rates.  It can also have consequences for those who drive for a living and those who need a CDL for their jobs.

Under the new law, fines for distracted driving can run as high as $150, but drivers may also have to pay fees associated with other offenses stemming from the stop.

How Is Distracted Driving Defined in Ohio Law?

Distracted driving includes any violation of the law forbidding texting while driving (ORC 4511.204), as well as additional distracted driving activities defined in the new law of October 2018 (ORC 4511.991)

The definition of distracted driving is broad: Engaging in any activity that is not necessary to the operation of a vehicle and hampers a driver's ability to operate the vehicle safely. Whether an activity counts as "distracted driving" is basically left to the discretion of the law enforcement officer and the Courts.

Defenses Against a Distracted Driving Charge

According to Ohio traffic law, the texting and distracted driving laws do not apply if the driver:

• is using an electronic device for emergency purposes

• is operating a device with hands-free technology

• is in a vehicle that is stopped and outside the lane of travel

• is simply entering a phone number to make a call

• is using a device for navigational purposes

• is operating a commercial truck while using a mobile data transmitter

• is operating a utility service vehicle in response to an emergency

If you call us about your distracted driving citation, be sure to let us know if any of the above describe your situation at the time of your traffic stop.

          Other recent articles by Dearie, Fischer & Mathews:

         How to Handle Traffic Stops While Transporting Firearms

          Drug Searches Expected: New K-9 in Lebanon Schools, Warren County

          What Is 'Attorney-Client Privilege'?

Does It Make Sense to Hire a Lawyer to Fight a Traffic Charge?

Everyone's situation is different, but in many cases it can be in your best interest to hire a lawyer to fight your traffic charges. Give us a call if you have been charged with a traffic offense. In your initial consultation call, we can help you understand the ramifications of your offense and whether it makes sense for you to fight it in Court.

Drivers in Warren County, Butler County, Montgomery County, and Greene County can call Dearie, Fischer & Mathews for legal representation on traffic violations.

If you have any questions related to any traffic stop you have been involved in, give our attorneys a call. Our lawyers' decades of experience will help you navigate the legal process and help you understand any charges against you. Our lawyers are familiar with the local Courts and can help you understand the strength of your case, and the likelihood of a favorable outcome in Court. During your first visit or phone call, we can do an initial assessment of your case, and give you a good idea of your personalized defense strategy, including how much our services will cost. Give us a call, any time day or night.

In Lebanon, Warren County and Butler County, Ohio call (513) 932-5529.

In Beavercreek, Montgomery County and Greene County, Ohio call (937) 306-6402.

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