Ohio Distracted Driving

Your Guide to Ohio's Distracted Driving Laws

(It's more than just not texting.)

Ohio distracted driving laws

There are around 300,000 car accidents every year in Ohio. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Ohio defines distracted driving as “any non-driving activity a person may engage in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving, thus increasing the risk of a crash.” 

This can include anything from texting while driving to adjusting the radio or eating a sandwich, though texting typically gets the most attention.

Most actions that fall under the distracted driving umbrella, while dangerous, are perfectly legal. Currently, in Ohio, lawmakers are focused mainly on preventing distracted driving accidents that are caused by texting, while hopefully combating other issues in years to come.

Distracted Driving Statistics in Ohio

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Ohio:

  • In 2018, distracted driving caused 13,867 crashes in Ohio.
  • These accidents resulted in 508 serious injuries and 52 fatalities.
  • Distracted driving accidents increased more than 15% from 2013 to 2018.

Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Ohio

Leading causes of documented accidents in Ohio

Distracted driving is the fifth-highest cause of driver-error accidents in Ohio. It's responsible for even more accidents than driving while intoxicated in this state. This highlights the very real risk this action presents.

Does Ohio Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes. 

In 2012, Ohio rolled out a statewide ban on text messaging while driving. 

Talking on the phone while using a handheld device is still permitted in Ohio with the exception of drivers under the age of 18, who are not allowed to use any portable electronic devices, even hands-free.

While the law focuses on texting while driving, anything that falls under the distracted driving umbrella (like applying makeup, eating, adjusting the A/C) can get you a citation if you break another law while doing so.

For example, if you run a stop sign, the police officer who pulls you over can also cite you for distracted driving if you missed the sign due to a secondary, distracting action.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Ohio?

Yes.

Using a preprogrammed GPS system is allowed. Also, drivers under 18 are permitted to use their cell phones if calling the police, ambulance, fire department, or other emergency services.

Also, although the state permits the use of handheld devices while driving, some Ohio towns and cities have outlawed it. If you're driving through Ohio and enter any of the following jurisdictions, you'll need to either end your call or switch to hands-free (Bluetooth) technology:

  • Beachwood
  • Bexley
  • Brooklyn
  • Mantua
  • Marietta
  • North Olmsted
  • North Royalton
  • Shaker Heights
  • South Euclid
  • Walton Hills
  • Woodmere

In the Village of Mantua, it's also illegal to hold a pet on your lap while driving. Mantua is currently the only Ohio location that has banned this distracting practice.

Ohio Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?
                X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                                               X
Is handheld device use permitted?                X
Any special restriction for young drivers?                X                
Is headphone/headset use permitted?
                X

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger while Driving in Ohio?

Yes. And no.

Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as reading a text. Anything that takes your attention away from the primary task of driving presents a potential hazard. In addition to the laws listed above, Ohio has a law against distracted driving in general.

So, what happens if a police officer in Ohio spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the road? Depends on the officer and how you're driving.

If you're clearly in control of your vehicle, you'll be fine since there is no law that specifically makes eating while driving illegal, and the general distracted driving law requires secondary enforcement. 

However, if you are swerving a lot or driving erratically while eating that burger, be prepared to get pulled over and cited for distracted driving.

Unless you're really in a hurry, you're better off just eating your cheeseburger inside or sitting in the parking lot.

What Is the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Ohio uses both primary and secondary enforcement.

In this state, secondary enforcement of texting laws is used for drivers 18 and older, while primary enforcement is permitted for drivers under the age of 18. 

This means that if a police officer pulls over a young driver after seeing them texting while driving, they can only issue a warning if the diver is 18 or older, but can write up a citation for a driver under 18.

Some Ohio towns and cities have written laws that supersede Ohio’s secondary enforcement laws for drivers over 18. In the following locations, drivers of all ages can receive a traffic citation if they are spotted texting while driving, even if no other laws have been broken (primary enforcement):

  • Avon
  • Bay Village
  • Brook Park
  • Lyndhurst
  • Moreland Hills
  • Pepper Pike
  • Portsmouth

What Is the Penalty for Distracted Driving in Ohio?

In Ohio, adult violators of the distracted driving laws are fined $150. Teen violators are penalized with a $150 fine and a 60-day suspension of their driver’s license. If a teen driver piles up multiple violations, they can face a fine of up to $300 plus the loss of their driver’s license for up to one year.

A new law that went into effect in 2018 adds an additional $100 fine for distracted driving while committing a moving violation. This additional $100 fine is waived if the offender attends a distracted driving education course.

Ohio compared to the rest of the US when it comes to texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona; but in 2021, newly enacted cell phone restriction laws will go into effect in Arizona.

Does Distracted Driving in Ohio Increase Insurance Rates?

In Ohio, distracted driving is a minor misdemeanor. While this is a low-level traffic offense, it does go on your driving record and will most likely result in an increase in your car insurance rates. 

The amount your rates will go up depends on your insurance company, the severity of the offense, and your overall driving record.

What If I drive into Pennsylvania or West Virginia?

Distracted driving laws vary by state, so if you drive into a neighboring state that has different laws, you may wonder if you are exempt from following them.

While you're currently allowed to make phone calls using a handheld device in Ohio, hands-free calling is required in West Virginia. Also, unlike in Ohio, younger drivers in Pennsylvania are currently still permitted to use cell phones while driving. 

So, does this mean that you have to put down your handheld device when you cross the border into West Virginia?  Yes, it does.  Does it mean that your teen driver can make a phone call after driving across the border into Pennsylvania? Yes, it does, though it's still a better idea to pull over before making a call.

Once you cross state lines, you're required to follow the laws of the state you are in. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to review the laws of neighboring states before taking a road trip.

What Is Ohio Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving?

Law enforcement officials are aware of the dangers posed by distracted driving and, along with Ohio’s government officials, are taking steps to increase awareness in the state.

In 2018, a 17-mile stretch of highway on I-76 and I-80 was designated Ohio’s First Distracted Driving Safety Corridor. 

The Ohio Department of Transportation placed approximately 50 signs along this corridor warning drivers of the dangers of distracted driving and stressing Ohio’s zero tolerance enforcement of distracted driving laws.

Since the signs have been added, this corridor has seen a 30% reduction in accidents, and more sections of state highway may be seeing signs added in the future. 

In the meantime, citizens and state lawmakers are rallying to change Ohio’s distracted driving laws to allow for primary enforcement by police officers.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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