Explainer: What will, won’t you be allowed to do with your phone while driving in Ohio

A new distracted driving law that passed the Ohio General Assembly and is expected to be signed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine puts new limits on what drivers can and can’t do with electronic devices behind the wheel.

This comes as a recent Dayton Daily News investigation found 2022 is on track to be the deadliest in recent years for traffic fatalities and distracted driving deaths in Ohio, and a string of crashes earlier this months left nine local people dead in six days.

The new law makes most cases of holding a cellphone or similar device while driving a primary offense, meaning police can stop drivers for that without needing another reason. But officers have to actually observe someone breaking the law in order to stop them.

The law also will hike penalties for using devices while driving. Officers can’t search someone’s phone for evidence of use without a warrant, or unless the driver consents to the search.

For the law’s first six months, offenders will get off with warnings while the state conducts a massive public education campaign.

Here is an overview of the law, which DeWine has expressed support for and is expected to sign:

What is allowed, banned and exempt?

- Holding a cellphone to your ear is allowed, but staring at a handheld phone is not.

- Drivers are allowed “one (finger) swipe” on a screen, such as answering a call.

- Using an online map or navigation device is fine so long as it’s mounted on the dash or on the console — not held in the hand.

- Police, other first responders and utility workers are exempt.

- So are two-way radios used by the Amateur Radio Service, AKA “ham radio.”

What can and can’t police do?

- Police can stop drivers just for using a handheld electronic device.

- But they have to actually see the driver using it.

- Officers can’t search an electronic device for evidence of recent use unless they have a warrant, or the driver allows them to do so.

- Police agencies will have to track and report racial data on everyone they stop for a distracted-driving violation.

How will people know?

- Drivers will have to sign a statement on the new law when they get or renew their licenses.

- Driver education classes and questions on license exams will cover the standards.

- Signs on some highways and at the state line will warn drivers of the new law.

- The state plans to conduct a public information campaign before the law goes into full force.

- For the law’s first six months in effect, police can only give written warnings to violators, allowing time for people to learn and adjust to the new rules.

Follow Ohio Politics on Facebook for the latest on Ohio legislation.

About the Author