You can now be pulled over in Ohio if it looks like you're using a mobile phone
Ohio's new distracted driving law goes into effect Tuesday. Under the change, signed into law in January, it's now a primary offense to use a mobile phone or electronic device while driving. That means you can get pulled over if law enforcement see you holding your phone.
"Previously, it was considered to be a secondary violation, where if drivers were pulled over for some other infraction and determined maybe they're on their phone or using their text or or some other online communication, that they could be subject to a ticket for that violation as well," explains Doug Riddell, a DUI and criminal defense attorney with Riddell Law in Mason, Ohio.
Now, if an officer sees you texting, using social media, etc.,they can pull you over without needing any other reason.
"Even if you're not in violation of any other traffic laws, you can still be pulled over now," Riddell says. "That's a huge change because, obviously, a lot of drivers are doing that."
There are exceptions (for drivers over age 18) for using navigation apps as long as you aren't holding the phone or typing; making emergency calls; using Bluetooth and other hands-free devices; and using the speakerphone mode. You can make a quick swipe to answer a call and then hold the phone to your ear. It's also OK to hold or use electronic devices while stopped at a traffic light or parked on a road or highway during an emergency or road closure, according to the state.
"I think one of those mounted devices is a good idea," Riddell says. "Certainly Bluetooth headsets, that all seems to still be OK and still compliant with the distracted driving laws. ... Talking, still OK."
The state is rolling out enforcement, starting with a six-month warning period where drivers pulled over for using their phones will receive warnings instead of ticket. Law enforcement will start issuing tickets Oct. 4.
A first offense can receive a fine of up to $150 and two points on the driver's record. A second offense within two years is a potential $250 fine and three points. A third offense within two years could bring a fine of up to $500 and a 90-day suspension of the driver's license. You can take a distracted driving course to help avoid fines and points, according to the state.
Generally speaking, though, Riddell says, "It isn't being treated as something where you could lose your driver's license. ... It's still being viewed more as a relatively minor offense."
While Riddell says drivers should pay attention and follow the law, he concedes from a legal standpoint, these types of tickets have been hard to enforce.
"They're really not being enforced anywhere near the level that drivers are actually committing this offense, so to speak, in terms of using their phones, but it's been hard for police to enforce it. Now, if they see that head down, I do feel like there's going to be a lot more of these citations coming up here now that this law is going into effect.
"Now that police officers have a green light on that, I think that these tickets are going to ramp up considerably."
Ohio on Monday unveileda statewide public awareness campaign about the strengthened distracted driving law. It encourages people to "Lock Your Screen Before You Rock the Road," adding "Phones Down. It's the Law."
What are your rights if you get pulled over?
"To some degree, you have a right to remain silent in these situations," Riddell points out.
Obviously, the best course of action is to follow the law and not use your phone while driving. However, WVXU asked Riddell about how an officer might prove someone was using their phone.
"I don't think it would be very easy for an officer to prove what the driver was doing there. I mean, if you have your phone and you have a map device up or something like that, how would the officer really be able to know? But, I think, if you're holding that phone, that's where there's some level of risk. ... If the officer is able to pull up, see you on the phone, looking down, that's probably where they're going to try to pull over drivers in those situations."
He notes officers are trained to essentially get you to incriminate yourself.
"They're going to probably try to make the statement, 'Hey, I saw you on your phone there. What were you using there? Are you texting somebody?' And then person says, 'Yeah, I was texting my mom; I was trying to pick somebody up or trying to arrange for the babysitter tonight.' Usually the driver is going to spill it out right there."
Ultimately, Riddell says, people's habits are going to have to change rapidly now that the enhanced law is in effect.