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Criminal Defense, Criminal Law

Ohio’s New Distracted Driving Law To Take Effect On April 4, 2023

Texting and Driving Law in Ohio

Beginning on April 4, 2023, police in Ohio will be permitted to pull over and issue citations to drivers who they observe using electronic devices in an unlawful manner. Specifically, the new law prohibits Ohio drivers from “using, holding, or physically supporting with any part of the person’s body an electronic wireless communications device.”

The offense targets cell phone usage but also includes laptops, tablets, and “any device with a screen capable of conveying a message.” Additionally, there are thirteen (13) specific exceptions for certain types of drivers, locations, and circumstances.

The Exceptions to Ohio’s New Distracted Driving Law

Vehicle operators performing specialized public services are exempt, such as utility and public safety workers, commercial truck drivers using mobile data systems, and emergency service providers. Any driver is permitted to use their electronic devices when their vehicle is in a stationary position in certain locations, like sitting at stop lights, while parked in “outside lanes of traffic,” or if in emergency road closures.

Drivers may also hold their electronic wireless communications device…

…directly near their ear for the purpose of making, receiving, or conducting a telephone call, provided that the person does not manually enter letters, numbers, or symbols into the device;

…in case of an emergency;

…to receive urgent alerts such as for weather or traffic;

…and, for some navigation purposes.

It is also an exception to store a device in a holster, harness, or article of clothing on the person’s body.

All hands-free, voice-activated, speaker, or electronically integrated interaction is also allowed, provided that the person does not hold or support the device with any part of the person’s body.

These rules are arguably complicated, but the language in the law repeatedly offers two points of guidance: drivers may not use their phones to “manually enter letters, numbers or symbols” or “hold or support the device with any part of their body” without the presence of an outlined exception.


In the last decade, crashes and fatalities from distracted driving have risen significantly. In December of 2022, Governor Mike DeWine commented that distracted driving is “just as dangerous as driving drunk,” when he signed Senate Bill 288 to revise Ohio’s distracted driver policies.

The most current data from the Ohio State Highway Patrol indicates that from 2017 through 2021, distracted driving caused more than 64,000 crashes and 226 deaths, with Cuyahoga County incidents leading the state. Male drivers are more likely to be involved than female drivers, and roughly one-third are between 15 to 24 years of age.

Anticipated Challenges to the New Law

The new law provides that police officers are required to physically observe a violation before a stop is initiated. Specifically, “[a] law enforcement officer does not have probable cause and shall not stop the operator…unless the officer visually observes the operator using, holding, or physically supporting with any part of the person’s body the electronic wireless communications device.”

Under certain circumstances it may be difficult to discern whether an electronic device was in use at the time of the stop and if an exception applies. Wearable devices such as smartwatches are not addressed directly in the policy and may further complicate matters. In some circumstances, the use of metadata and other types of external electronic evidence may be required to support or contest the validity of an alleged violation.

Your Rights as a Driver in Ohio

Drivers should be aware that they are under no obligation to hand their phone over to law enforcement if stopped for allegedly violating the new law. In fact, in such a situation, an officer must inform the individual that they have the right to refuse a search of their electronic device. Further, unless the officer obtains a warrant or the driver “voluntarily and unequivocally gives consent for the officer to access the device,” the officer cannot confiscate or obtain consent through coercion or other improper means.

As with any encounter with law enforcement, it is advised to remain calm, provide respect and professionalism, and remember your rights.

Read More: 3 Tips To Effectively Handle Interactions With Law Enforcement In Ohio


If a violation of Ohio’s new distracted driving law has occurred, a driver may receive up to a $150 fine, two points on their license, and up to five years of probation for a first offense unless a driver’s safety course is completed. The maximum fine increases up to $250 for a second offense and up to $500 beyond that with a possible ninety-day license suspension. Fines double in construction zones.

Law enforcement has been advised to issue warnings for the first six months after the law goes into effect to help the public acclimate to the new regulations.

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Brad Wolfe Law, L.L.C., handles serious felonies, misdemeanors, and pre-charge investigations in federal, state, municipal, and juvenile courts across Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.
Attorney Brad Wolfe believes that each case deserves powerful and creative advocacy and that every client be afforded their constitutional right to fairness, as well as superior levels of communication and compassion during all stages of their matter.
If you have been charged with a crime, or are under investigation, call Brad today at (216) 815-6000.
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