Last updated: June 24, 2016
Cell phone, text messaging news: A Senate plan that would tack on an additional $100 fine for those who commit a long list of traffic offenses while driving distracted has been approved and sent to the House. Sponsor state Sen. Jim Hughes has seen his distracted driving bill stalled since mid-summer 2015, however. “Let’s get it done now because we could save a life,” Hughes said in mid-April 2016. The Senate vote was unanimous. The bill remains in the House Judiciary Committee.
Legislation also was filed for the session that would allow primary enforcement of the Ohio texting & driving law. Another bill seeks a general distracted driving law, but with secondary enforcement. The state’s texting ban is drawing widespread complaints from police that it’s too difficult or bothersome to enforce. Neither bil has seen any action as of late summer.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety is pushing for distracted driving fines from $100 to $300 that would be tacked on in addition to penalties for other offenses. The money would be used to fund driver education. The 2015 proposal initially was part of Gov. John Kasich’s state budget, but was removed by the House Finance Committee Feb. 23. That plan returned via House Bill 86 from state Rep. Cheryl Grossman.
The Ohio distracted driving laws have two levels of enforcement: There is only secondary enforcement for adult drivers who text message. This means that police need another reason to stop and cite violators, such as weaving or speeding. For drivers under the age of 18, however, texting and the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices are primary offenses. State Rep. Michael Sheehy’s HB 88 would apply primary enforcement to adult drivers.
Lyndhurst, Moreland Hills, Portsmouth and Pepper Pike have made texting subject to primary enforcement. Brooklyn, North Olmsted, North Royalton, South Euclid, Walton Hills, Beachwood, Marietta, Shaker Heights and Woodmere have all outlawed handheld cell phone use for all drivers.
New HandsFreeInfo feature: Distracted driving research page.
Current distracted driving prohibitions:
- Statewide ban on text messaging by all drivers.
- For drivers under the age of 18, use of portable electronic devices prohibited. Primary enforcement.
- Cleveland, Toledo and Columbus are among the many Ohio cities that previously banned text messaging while driving (more cities below). The new state distracted driving law will not override local legislation that calls for stiffer penalties or enforcement.
Fines for adult violators: $150. For teen violators, $150 and a 60-day suspension of license. For teens with multiple violations, fines top out at $300 with possible loss of driver’s license for a year.
Distracted driving notes (2016):
Mahoning and Trumbull counties’ distracted driving problem was detailed by an observational study undertaken by the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. The study (conducted in fall 2015) found 11 percent of local drivers were distracted. Drivers 26 to 40 years old were most likely to be distracted, researchers said.
House safety committee chief Jim Butler says Senate Bill 146 could come up for a vote before the summer 2016 recess. The bill has languished in the House since June 2015. Butler told TV 10 that some senators felt the bill was too complicated.
Distracted driving legislation (2015-2016):
House Bill 86: Would establish general offense of distracted driving. Fines: $100 (first offense) then $300. Penalties doubled if fatality results. Secondary enforcement. Mandatory court appearance. Revenue funneled to driver education fund. (Grossman)
HB 88: Would outlaw use of a wireless communications device while operating a vehicle in a school zone during hours when children are present. Also bars use in construction zones. Primary enforcement for texting & driving law. Allows for prosecution under local laws. (Sheehy)
Senate Bill 146: Would establish an additional $100 for committing various traffic offenses while distracted. Approved unanimously by the Senate on June 25. In the House. (Hughes)
HB 53: Transportation budget, previously with distracted driving provisions. Approved by the Legislature.
2015 distracted driving notes:
The Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized in favor of state Rep. Michael Sheehy’s House Bill 88, which seeks to make texting subject to primary (unrestricted) enforcement: It “would send a strong message to motorists that thumbing their cellphone with one hand while clutching the steering wheel with the other puts themselves and others on the roadway at intolerable risk,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote Aug. 21.
The Department of Public Safety’s push for general distracted driving fines is part of a “Drive Toward a Safer Ohio” campaign. Public Safety Director John Born told the House Finance Committee that the additional revenues would help police enforce the existing distracted driving laws.
The House Finance Committee’s chairman said Feb. 23 that his panel had heard “some pretty passionate testimony about distracted driving,” but had to remove the 2015 plan for additional fines due to a deadline on the overall transportation budget. It is now contained in House Bill 86.
The plan would bar “any activity that is not necessary to the driving of a motor vehicle and impairs, or reasonably would be expected to impair, the ability of the person to drive the motor vehicle safely.”
2013-2014 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 637: Would make text messaging while driving a primary offense. Seeks to prohibit use of wireless communications devices in school zones and in construction zones. Approved by the Transportation Committee in a 10-2 vote of Dec. 2. Dead. (Damschroder)
2014 distracted driving notes:
The House Transportation Committee heard from several survivors of distracted driving victims in its December consideration of HB 637: “Your job is to pass legislation to protect the citizens of this state from the dangers cell phones create while driving,” said Brock Dietrich, who lost his daughter in a texting & driving crash last year.
State Rep. Rex Damschroder, a co-sponsor of the Ohio texting law that went into effect in 2013, was pushing for an upgrade to primary enforcement, which would allow officers to stop and cite adult offenders on sight. The measure cleared the Transportation Committee by a 10-2 vote Dec. 2, but the full House didn’t act before the two-year legislative session ended.
Damschroder, R-Fremont, said in mid-October that his newly filed HB 637 “should be a high priority when we return to session in November.” Damschroder’s bill also seeks a ban on using cell phones in school zones and construction zones.
Several cities, including Cleveland, are modifying or repealing local laws and legislation in the wake of the state text messaging law’s enactment. The new Ohio distracted driving law states it won’t override “substantially equivalent municipal ordinances” that call for tougher penalties and priority enforcement.
Portsmouth, which patrols its texting law with primary enforcement, is studying a plan to ban use of handheld cell phones. The sponsor, City Councilman Kevin Johnson, introduced the city’s local texting law.
Ohio Highway Patrol officers say they’ve issued only 230 texting citations to adult drivers under the year-old law. 42 teen drivers were ticketed.
Marietta banned use of handheld communications devices via via a City Council vote March 6. The law should go into effect just after the July 4 weekend, officials said. “If this ban saves even one life, then it will have served its purpose,” Councilman Steve Thomas said. Read the Marietta distracted driving law (PDF).
Shaker Heights has outlawed use of handheld communications devices by drivers. Enforcement will be primary, including for texting violations. Fines up to $1,000 and possible jail time. Two points vs. driver’s license. The final City Council vote came Feb. 25 and the law will go into full effect in May. Read the Shaker Heights distracted driving law.
2013 distracted driving notes:
In Cleveland, police wrote almost 100 tickets for text messaging while driving in the first 11 months of 2013. The number of offenses isn’t fully reflected, as police tend to use the city’s 1976 “full time and attention” law for enforcement.
Marietta is hesitantly moving toward a ban on handheld cell phone use and texting while driving, with primary enforcement. The City Council vote was delayed until 2014 after numerous concerns were raised, however. “Something has to be done or someone is going to get killed,” one council member said in late November.
Moreland’s upgrade to primary enforcement for texting & driving violations went into full effect Oct. 15, with police writing tickets that would cost about $150 out of pocket. Warning signs are going up around the city. “It’s dangerous no matter what your age,” Mayor Susan Renda said of the state’s secondary enforcement for adult texting offenders.
Pepper Pike has adopted primary enforcement for texting & driving violations, allowing police to stop and cite violators for that reason alone. The effective date is Sept. 21, a month after the City Council adopted the ordinance. Tickets will cost violators about $185 out of pocket. The city sent notices to residents about the enforcement change from state law.
Marietta’s mayor wants an upgrade to Ohio’s new texting & driving law. He told the City Council on Aug. 15 that secondary enforcement wasn’t enough. “Something has to be done, so I’m recommending a complete ban on texting by drivers,” meaning primary enforcement for all violators regardless of age.
The city of Belpre revisited its texting & driving ordinance July 22, and decided to go with the state’s more detailed law. The move is a downgrade in enforcement, since the state code allows traffic stops for adults suspected of texting only when a second offense is observed. State fines now top out at $300; the city’s maximum was $500 with added possibility of jail time.
University Heights’ ban on using handheld wireless devices while driving is in effect with ticketing beginning July 15. The law actually went into effect June 14; warnings will be written until mid-July. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250 and then $500. Possible 2 points vs. license. Primary enforcement, unlike the state texting law for adults.
Akron’s City Council approved a distracted driving ordinance March 11, but it essentially mirrors the state’s laws. A plan to make text messaging while driving a primary offense for adults was abandoned in part because of racial-profiling fears by the NAACP. Councilmen Mike Williams, who sponsored the first bill, said the council “will be revisiting this,” despite support from only a third of the panel. The city law will divert some ticket revenues to education about texting & driving.
Lyndhurst added a ban on handheld cell phone use in mid-April. The city also made texting & driving a primary offense for all drivers. Fine: $250 plus possible jail time.
The intent of the state texting law was to eliminate the patchwork of local laws. Rep. Damschroder, R-Fremont, says: “Now people know it is illegal to text anywhere in Ohio.”
Ohio distracted driving legislation (2011-2012):
House Bill 99: Would prohibit the driver of a motor vehicle from texting on an electronic wireless communications device. Primary enforcement (in the original House bill). Includes streetcars and trolleys. Fines up to $150. Provides for six-month warning period. Approved by the House Transportation, Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee in a unanimous vote taken March 30, 2011. Approved by the full House in an 88-10 vote taken June 28, 2011. Amended and approved by the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee on May 2, 2012. Approved by the full Senate on May 3 and returned to the House (detail below). The House gave final approval May 15. Latest action: The governor signed the texting measure June 1 and the law took effect 90 days after that (Aug. 31), with a six-month warning period to follow. (Damschroder, Garland)
Senate activity on HB 99: Amended and approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in a 6-3 vote taken May 2, 2012. Approved by the full Senate in a 28-5 vote May 3 and returned to the House. The Senate version would make text messaging by adults a secondary offense, watering down the House plan. For drivers under the age of 18, however, texting and use of other portable electronic devices would be a primary offense. (The House version did not single out teenage drivers.) Fine for teens: $150 plus 60-day license suspension. Subsequent offenses by teens would bring $300 fines and loss of license for a year.
Read the final Ohio distracted driving act.
SB 35: Would ban use of handheld communications devices while driving. Hands-free cell phone use OK. Includes streetcars and trolleys. Secondary enforcement. Fine: $30. Bill has not budged since being filed in the Highways & Transportation Committee on Feb. 1. (Tavares)
2012 distracted driving notes:
Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed’s plan to ban use of handheld cell phones while driving is being redrafted. Reed amended the proposed Cleveland ordinance in mid-September to bring its provisions it in line with the state’s texting law. That means enforcement was downgraded from primary to secondary. Reed will push the City Council to return primary enforcement to the legislation, he said Sept. 18. Reed says he has the votes to ban handheld cell phone use in Cleveland, Fox 8 reported
Beachwood is now enforcing its ban on use of handheld electronic devices by all drivers. The ordinance also covers laptop computers. Ticket plus 2 points against the driver’s license. The police chief successfully lobbied for primary enforcement for all violators, regardless of age, saying the pending state law is “too lenient.” The Beachwood measure was approved June 18, 2012, a warning period began July 18, and full enforcement went into effect a month later.
University Heights approved ordinances Aug. 13 that mirror the new state distracted driving laws. The move was necessary, apparently, because police write all traffic tickets under city ordinances. The police chief said he didn’t find evidence that cell phones were causing many local accidents.
Bowling Green’s City Council unanimously rejected a pan for a general distracted driving ordinance on Aug. 6. Police would have been be able to stop and cite drivers who do not give full attention to operating their vehicles. Enforcement would have been primary, unlike the new state restrictions on adults who text & drive.
Lyndhurst had been considering a ban on cell phone use by drivers under the age of 18, but the City Council decided the state’s new distracted driving laws were sufficient. The city previously banned text messaging by driving.
Rocky River, a west-side suburb of Cleveland, is in the process of enacting a local texting law with primary enforcement. Two more readings are required. The measure is another response to the state’s new secondary enforcement law.
Parma Heights isn’t waiting for the state ban on texting & driving that goes into effect Aug. 30. In mid-June, the City Council put into immediate effect an ordinance against the distracted driving practice. The ordinance calls for secondary enforcement for adults and primary enforcement for teens, same as the state law.
Between 2009 and 2011, 31,231 accidents in Ohio involved distracted drivers, state police say. Those wrecks led to 74 deaths and 7,825 injuries.
“Distracted driving is unsafe, irresponsible — and in a split second, its consequences can be devastating,” Patrol superintendent John Born said April 11 in announcing the stats. Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, had the most wrecks. View Ohio distracted driving crashes by district.
Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed has proposed a citywide ban on all uses of handheld cell phones while driving. “The distracted driving accidents that have occurred here in Cuyahoga County far exceed those in the state of Ohio, more than Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo combined,” the Cleveland councilman said in filing the legislation April 30.
Councilman Zack Reed’s 2012 plan to ban use of handheld cell phones in Cleveland follows up on his ordinance that succeeded in banning texting & driving in 2009. He accused state legislators of “sticking their heads in the sand” when it comes to distracted driving. Fines: $100, then $250, then $500.
Senate President Tom Niehaus told reporters in early February that the House texting bill was unlikely to advance unless more senators register their support. AAA lobbied senators on behalf of the legislation.
A spokesman for AAA East Central said of HB 99: “We’re discouraged, but not defeated.” AAA has set up a toll-free number that allows residents to speak their minds about distracted driving to representatives: 855-BAN-TEXT (855-226-8398).
Kettering is the latest Ohio municipality to ban text messaging while driving, via a unanimous City Council vote taken in late December 2011. The law went into effect Jan. 3 but tickets won’t be written before June. The mayor noted that House Bill 99 “doesn’t seem to be moving through the Senate very quickly.”
2011 distracted driving notes:
Fairview Park has enacted a ban on texting while driving with primary enforcement status. Fines $100/$250/$500. The law was pushed through on first reading Dec. 19, in order to help cut down on holiday accidents.
The Transportation Committee heard testimony Nov. 16 on House Bill 99, the texting & driving measure. A man who lost his daughter in a crash allegedly caused by a texting driver was among the witnesses.
Louisville, Ohio, lawmakers went back and forth on a plan for a text messaging ordinance before rejecting it. “I feel that if more local government bodies pass ordinances to prohibit this dangerous behavior, the legislators in Columbus will take notice and create a statewide law,” said council member Guy Guidone (see his reader comment below). The bill was approved in a 3-2 vote Dec. 19 but defeated on second reading (4-1).
Wauseon’s ban on texting while driving went into effect in mid-November. It’s a minor misdemeanor, but serial offenders and distracted drivers causing accidents will faces fines of up to $500 and 60 days in jail. The local police chief said the city would no longer wait for the Ohio Legislature to act. “Enough is enough,” he told the Toledo Blade just before the unanimous Oct. 17 vote. The ordinance also covers use of the Internet via devices such as smartphones and laptops.
AAA and Clear Channel Outdoors have teamed up for billboards in support of HB 99. In addition to the message “dnt txt n drv,” motorists are given a toll-free number — 855-BAN-TEXT — that will connect them to their state senators. Of course, that call will have to wait if drivers are alone. About 70 billboards are being erected statewide.
Ohio HB 99 outlook: “I think we’ll get it passed through the House,” said AAA lobbyist Ric Oxender (it did pass). “The Senate will be a little more difficult, but it’s doable.”
“One more town like Wauseon passing the bill against texting makes it more important that we pass this because that increases the patchwork (of local laws) across the state,” said HB 99 co-sponsor Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont.
Worthington’s City Council rejected a proposal to ban handheld cell phone use by drivers on July 18. One lawmaker feared the city image would suffer if it handed out tickets to unknowing non-residents (as in a speed trap) while another said the legislation smacked of “a police state.”
AAA East Central’s Brian Newbacher testified in support of HB 99 before the House Transportation Committee on March 16: “Texting while driving is the most dangerous of all distractions behind the wheel. It therefore merits special attention with its own law and enforcement and education programs.”
AAA East Central has asked supporters of distracted driving legislation to contact their legislators. “We’re reasonably optimistic that we’ll have passage (of a no-texting law) in the next two years,” a spokesman said in January.
The city of Dublin has banned texting while driving. Misdemeanor with primary enforcement. Fines of $150 and possible jail time. The City Council vote came Feb. 14. Councilman Mike Keenan pushed for the new law after his daughter lost a friend in a distracted driving accident.
AAA East Central asks supporters of distracted driving legislation to contact their legislators. “We’re reasonably optimistic that we’ll have passage (of a no-texting law) in the next two years,” a spokesman said in January.
The city of Berea has banned texting while driving, but enforcement is secondary, requiring police to have another reason to stop a motorist. The vote came in mid-January 2011.
Distracted driving legislation (2009-10):
Ohio House Bill 415: Would outlaw text messaging by all drivers in Ohio. Primary offense. $150 fine after six-month warning period. Approved by the House Public Safety Committee on March 10 and then by the full House on March 24 (86-12 vote). Sent to the Senate. (DeBose, Garland)
Ohio House Bill 266: Would prohibit drivers from using mobile communications devices, including cell phones (unless a hands-free attachment is employed). Also applies to streetcars.
Ohio House Bill 261: Seeks to outlaw text messaging by all drivers. Includes typing on cell phones, PDAs and laptops.
Ohio House Bill 262: Would ban use of handheld cell phones and text messaging while driving.
HB 270: Seeks to ban text messaging by all drivers in Ohio.
HB 130: Would prohibit drivers under 17 who have restricted licenses from talking on cell phones or text messaging. (No apparent activity on this bill as of August 2009.)
Ohio Senate Bill 164: Would outlaw text messaging by all drivers. Secondary enforcement.
Sponsors of HB 415, approved by the House safety panel, used the U.S. Department of Transportation’s model distracted driving legislation as a guide.
Rep. Joseph Koziura, D-Lorain, is the sponsor of HB 266, which seeks to make use of mobile handheld devices while driving a primary offense. Fines range from $25 to $100 depending on past offenses. The legislation has bipartisan backing, with 11 co-sponsors.
Rep. Michael DeBose, D-Cleveland, is the author of House Bills 261 and 262. They call for fines of $250 with more severe sanctions for causing an accident while texting or cell phoning. Both are designed for secondary enforcement, meaning law officers need another reason to pull over a driver, such as running a red light.
HB 262 as filed does not cite use of hands-free devices as an exception to the cell phone ban.
Sen. Shirley Smith, D-Cleveland, sponsored SB 164, with fines of $200 for first-time offenders and $500 for subsequent offenses. Two or more violations require 100 hours of community service. The Ohio text messaging bill calls for primary enforcement.
Regarding a state of an Ohio text-messaging ban for drivers, Rep. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, told the Newark Advocate: “I think it’s a matter of time. Because I think you’re going to see more accidents (caused by texting).”
City/county legislation and laws:
Cleveland banned texting & driving in city limits in 2009. Fines range from $150-$500.
Cincinnati: The city’s ban on text messaging while driving is now being enforced. A majority of council members voted Sept. 10, 2010, to outlaw texting and accessing the Internet while behind the wheel. The distracted driving ordinance took effect 30 days later with $100 and up fines. “It’s a question of safety on the streets; it’s not rocket science,” said Councilman Chris Bortz, who pushed for a ban on texting last year, but failed to gather enough votes. This year there are three new council members, leaving Councilman Chris Monzel alone in his resistance to the ban. The new Cincinnati distracted driving law also outlaws Internet use while driving but does not affect cell phone use.
Cleveland Heights has banned texting while driving in city limits. Fines $100 then $250 and $500. The law was approved Sept. 20, 2010.
Delaware, Ohio, has banned text messaging and use of the Internet while driving. Fines $150. The distracted driving ordinance was approved June 29, 2010. The ban was based on Columbus’ law.
Gahanna upgraded fines for its ordinance against distracted driving/failure to have vehicle under control. They now are $250 and and up to 30 days in jail. City officials said the tougher penalties were designed to send the signal that text messaging and driving would not be tolerated.
Worthington’s ban on text messaging while behind the wheel took effect July 14, 2010. Primary enforcement. Fines $150 (first offense) then $500/$1000. The City Council rejected a last-minute bid to outlaw handheld cell phone use by drivers, but plans to readdress the issue Sept. 14.
Belpre has outlawed texting while driving. The legislation passed its third reading before the City Council on May 24, 2010. Fines from $150 to $500 and up to 60 days in jail. Primary enforcement.
Columbus has outlawed text messaging while driving. The law provides for primary enforcement and $150 fines. The distracted driving law went into effect May 5, 2010. City Councilman Andrew Ginther authored the legislation, which was approved in early April. In the first six months, 24 citations were written.
Hilliard lawmakers voted May 24, 2010, to enact a ban on text messaging by drivers.
Lyndhurst is considering banning cell phone use by drivers under age 18. The city banned texting while operating a motor vehicle in November 2009.
South Euclid councilmen voted Jan. 25, 2010, to ban handheld cell phone use and text messaging by drivers. The council also outlawed use of computers while driving. Fines $100/$250/$500.
Highland Heights‘ police chief has been told to research a citywide ban on texting. The chief had multiple reservations about a local law. There has been no action since a possible ban was discussed in February 2010.
North Royalton has outlawed text messaging while driving in city limits. Violations will be a primary offense, meaning police can pull over violators for that reason alone. The ordinance was approved Dec. 15, 2009.
Toledo’s City Council approved a ban on text messaging while driving in city limits on Nov. 24. Texting behind the wheel is now a primary offense, meaning police can pull over drivers for that reason alone. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner proposed the anti-texting law in August. The law took effect on Jan. 1, 2010.
Summit County has approved a ban on text messaging for all drivers. It is the first country texting ban in Ohio, but it does not include Akron. The anti-texting law, which calls for $150 fines, was voted in on Oct. 19, 2009.
The city of Huron has prohibited texting while driving. Fines start at $150 and take effect in mid-August 2010.
The city of Bexley began enforcing its ban on text messaging while driving on Oct. 21, 2009. The City Council outlawed texting behind the wheel on Sept. 22. As of March 2010, no citations had been written.
North Olmsted adopted a text messaging while driving ban, to go with its handheld cell phone law. The unanimous vote in favor came on Oct. 6, 2009.
At a March 24, 2009, hearing for the proposed Cleveland ban on texting while driving, Councilman Mike Polensik said text messaging wasn’t a priority in his part of the city: “I would be happy if the hoodlums were texting each other rather than robbing people out on the street.”
Cleveland’s safety director, Martin Flask, said: “This is as much about public awareness as it is enforcement.”
The citizens of Bowling Green actually got to decide their cell phone fates: A vote on whether to ban yakking while driving was cast in May 2009. “I don’t think you could go wrong with the public making a decision,” a city councilman said after the Sept. 16 vote on the vote. “I’ve just got this feeling it’s going to put the community at odds,” the sole opposing representative said. The anti-text messaging measure in Bowling Green was defeated by a clear majority.
Previous cell phone/texting legislation:
HB 425 from the 2007-2008 session would have prohibited drivers from text messaging. It was last seen in committee.
The cell phone industry wasn’t protesting HB 425: “We certainly wouldn’t take issue with that legislation,” said Joe Farren of CITA-The Wireless Association, the wireless industry lobby in America. “We don’t think anyone should be text messaging while they drive. Public safety is a constant and primary issue here.”