Changes to cellphone use by drivers is explained

Ron Craig

Ohio’s new distracted driving law has now taken effect. The law dictates what drivers legally can and cannot do when it comes to using communications devices such as cellphones by vehicle drivers on public roadways.
One of the biggest changes the new law makes is that it makes using such communications devices while driving a primary offense, changing it from a secondary offense.
A primary offense allows a law enforcement officer to make a traffic stop for the offense without any other probable cause. In other words, an alleged offense of the new law is the only reason a law enforcement officer needs to pull a vehicle over.
“Communications device” for purposes of the new law includes cellphones; text message devices; personal digital assistants; devices capable of displaying a video, a movie, broadcast TV images; computers, including laptops and tablets and any other devices which are substantially similar.
The new law prohibits a driver from certain activities, including dialing a phone number, sending a text message, updating or browsing social media, conducting video calls such as Facetime, browsing the internet, watching videos, playing games and recording or steaming videos.
There are a few exceptions to the above situations, such as reporting an emergency to law enforcement agencies, a hospital, healthcare providers, fire and EMS departments or similar agencies.
Other exceptions include holding a phone to the ear only during phone conversations and only if the call is started or stopped with a single touch or swipe, and drivers holding or using a cellphone while stopped at a traffic light or parked on a roadway during an emergency or road closure.
There are also exceptions for first responders such as law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel if the communications device is being used as part of their duties.
Commercial truck drivers are also permitted to use their mobile data terminals.
GPS units may be activated or deactivated, viewed, or modified verbally or with a single touch or swipe. Manually entering data to a GPS unit is prohibited.
Drivers face some pretty hefty fines when they are cited for violating the new law. A first offense within a two-year period could result in a fine of $150 and two points on their record. A second offense within a two-year period could result in a $250 fine and three points on their records. Fines and points go up from there for any further violations
within a two-year period, and drivers could even have their licenses suspended for up to 90 days.
Fines could also be doubled if a violation occurs in a work zone.
Completion of a distracted driving course could help avoid fines and points in some cases.
There is a six-month “grace period” built into the law, which took effect April 4. During this grace period, officers are to issue warnings instead of citations. The grace period ends Oct. 4, allowing officers to issue citations starting Oct. 5.
It is noteworthy that during this grace period, officers are still allowed to issue citations and make arrests for other violations they discover during traffic stops, such as driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
This article is a public service from the Community Policing/Crime Prevention Division of the Lake Township Police Department. Township residents may obtain further information on crime prevention and public safety topics by contacting Ron Craig, crime prevention specialist/community policing officer, at 419-481-6354.


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