Laws and legal terminology can be complicated and confusing unless you are a party in the justice system yourself. Ohio Legal Help seeks to make the justice system more accessible so that people feel empowered to resolve their legal problems. Our blog series, Legally Informed, will help you understand common terms used in the law, the courtroom and cases.
In this blog, we’ll cover the newest updates to Ohio law concerning the use of cellphones while driving. Ohio law currently prohibits texting while driving, but drivers are allowed to hold their phones during a call and press buttons to make calls. Soon, there will be stricter laws around holding and using cellphones and stiffer penalties.
Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 288 into law on January 3, 2023 which contains the new law called the “Hands-free law.” This means that 90 days from January 3 (April 4, 2023), the law will go into effect. However, there will be a six-month grace period during which law enforcement will issue warning citations.
The Hands-free law makes using, holding, or physically supporting an “electronic wireless communications device” (i.e. a cellphone) a primary offense. This means that a police officer can pull someone over for holding or using their cellphone, when historically drivers had to be pulled over for a different traffic violation, such as running a red light. Drivers can now be cited just for distracted driving rather than after committing a separate primary offense.
There are a few exceptions to the law. Drivers can use their cellphone if it’s on speakerphone without holding the device or if they are stopped at a red light. Ohioans can also hold a phone to their ear for a call but cannot text, and all emergency calls are permitted in all circumstances.
Penalties for the new Hands-free law include a $150 fine for a driver's first offense and two points on their license unless a distracted driving course is completed.
If you get pulled over for texting while driving or otherwise using your cellphone, an officer is not allowed to seize your device or search your phone unless they have a warrant or you consent to the search. The officer must observe you using, holding or physically supporting your device before they pull you over and cite you for the offense.