Ohio Texting Prohibition Goes into Effect, with Warning Period

A law prohibiting Ohioans from texting behind the wheel goes into effect today after it was finalized this past summer, as more lawmakers and law enforcement officials join in efforts to combat distracted driving.

The effective date begins with a six-month grace period in which police will issue written warnings in lieu of tickets, after which they will begin enforcing the law as a secondary offense for drivers over 18 years old. Enforcement is more strict for minors.

Secondary offenses are only citable in addition to another offense; primary offenses allow police to pull over a driver they suspect of violating that law and cite them solely for that offense.

The fact that it is a secondary offense might complicate enforcement of the law, although the mere presence of a statewide law may be a big enough deterrent for drivers to stop the dangerous habit, said Mary Bonelli, spokeswoman for the Ohio Insurance Institute (OII), in an interview

“Officers will have to look even closer if there’s a behavior in addition to the texting that is a violation,” she said. “That’s where it becomes a little bit more difficult.”

Once the law fully goes into effect in March, first-time violators will be fined $150 while repeat violators face a $300 fine.

However, local ordinances governing texting bans vary across Ohio’s municipalities. Bonelli said that, in some cases, those local laws may carry heavier fines and separate penalties.

“We hope this’ll be a deterrent for texters and readers of texts while driving,” said Bonelli. “Driving is the kind of thing that you can’t give your full attention to while you’re texting.”

Ohio’s law, established under HB 99, does not include any point assessment for violations of the texting ban. That means insurers likely won’t be able to see whether a person has a texting violation on record, which means they most likely won’t affect premiums on their own.

“Because it’s so new, it’s hard to tell the impact on future premiums, but we’re hoping that it does provide a safer driving environment,” Bonelli said.

Young Drivers Face Stiffer Enforcement

The new law establishes more stringent rules for the state’s newest drivers, barring those 18 years old and under from using any wireless electronic devices while driving. It is also enforced as a primary offense for minors, easing citation rules for police.

Those younger than 18 who break the law will have their license suspended for 60 days on a first offense. Another offense brings a yearlong license suspension.

Even though the offense doesn’t carry violation points that could impact insurance premiums, it’s possible that teenagers who have their licenses suspended as a result of the offense could hurt their chances of getting the cheapest auto insurance rates available.

Drivers over 18 years old, meanwhile, are solely prohibited from “writing, sending or reading” texts while driving, according to the legislation. Use of hands-free and voice-operated devices is exempt.

The bill also integrates instruction about texting and other distracted driving behaviors into the state’s driver education courses. A recent California law also included a provision diverting funds to distraction-related education for motorists.

Stiffer rules for younger motorists show that legislators and safety advocates are pushing especially hard to educate drivers about distracted driving dangers while they are still learning, according to Bonelli.

“The sooner we can get to teenagers about the potential for distraction, and that texting and driving is a true distraction, the safer we all become,” she said.

States Have Range of Texting Bans

Ohio became the 39th state in the U.S. to ban texting while driving when Gov. John R. Kasich finalized the law in June.

Idaho’s SB 1274 went into effect last month and established a similar texting ban. However, that law will be enforced as a primary offense.

A recent texting ban in Alabama has harsher penalties, adding two violation points for each offense.

Earlier this week in California, lawmakers passed legislation upping fines and penalties for texting behind the wheel. Under the bill, one point will be added to a repeat violator’s driving record.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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