In a recent announcement, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine declared that distracted driving crashes in Ohio reached a six-year low in September 2023, demonstrating the positive impact of a new law aimed at reducing such accidents.
Preliminary data from the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHA) revealed that distracted driving crashes hit a record low last month when compared to each month dating back to January 2018.
In May 2018, there were 1,383 distracted driving crashes in Ohio, while September 2023 recorded only 576 crashes.
Officials are attributing the decline in distracted driving incidents to a law that Governor DeWine signed in January.
This legislation, which became effective on April 4, introduced stricter regulations against distracted driving and included a six-month grace period for drivers to become accustomed to the new law.
Last year, Dom Tiberi, a 10TV sports anchor, testified in support of the legislation after he tragically lost his 21-year-old daughter, Maria, in a distracted driving crash in 2013.
Since then, the Tiberi family and their 10TV colleagues have been on a mission to educate young drivers about the perils of distracted driving through “Maria’s Message,” which Dom has delivered over 150 times to schools across Ohio.
Starting from October 5, law enforcement agencies have the authority to issue citations to drivers caught engaging in distracted driving.
The law specifically prohibits drivers from “using, holding or physically supporting” a cellphone while driving, with exceptions for situations like being stopped at a red light, using speakerphone without holding the phone or holding phones to the ear while talking but not using texting or typing functions.
The penalties for violating the law are as follows:
- First offense in two years: 2 points assessed to the driver’s license, up to a $150 fine.
- Second offense in two years: 3 points assessed to the license, up to a $250 fine.
- Third or more offense in two years: 4 points assessed to the license, up to a $500 fine, and possible 90-day suspension of the driver’s license.
- Fines are doubled if the violation occurs in a work zone.
- Completion of a distracted driving course can help avoid fines and points.
According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP), comparing the first nine months of 2022 and 2023, there were 1,255 fewer distracted driving crashes this year, marking a 16% decrease.
Additionally, distracted driving fatalities dropped by nearly 25% over the same period.
The positive impact of the law extends to overall crash rates as well.
Excluding April 2020 when fewer people were driving due to the pandemic, September 2023 experienced the lowest number of overall crashes in almost six years. In January 2018, there were approximately 29,264 crashes in comparison to about 14,458 crashes last month, representing a decrease of over 50%.
To further encourage compliance with the law, OSHP is planning high-visibility enforcement efforts throughout the state, focusing on areas such as Interstate 71 in Delaware County, I-77 in Summit County, I-70 in Guernsey County, and U.S. 35 in Jackson County.
Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, Andy Wilson, was optimistic about the law.
“No more texting, no more emails, no more selfies, no more scrolling while you’re driving,” Wilson stated.
Governor DeWine added that the law is ultimately about saving lives and not just imposing fines.
“This new law is really not about writing tickets, this new law is not about fines. What this new law is about is saving lives,” DeWine said. “That’s before a single ticket associated with this law as ever issued. The law is a teacher.”
Regarding enforcement of the law, Colonel Jones of OSHP assured that officers will make sure that such violations are flagrant before pulling anyone over.
“It’s about making sure that the specific violations, that those elements are being met. And quite honestly if the elements aren’t met, then our troopers aren’t making the stops,” Jones said. “They’ve got to be able to go into court and be able to prove that that offense and violation did indeed occur.”
To reinforce awareness of the law, a new campaign has been launched in Ohio, encouraging everyone to put their phones down while driving.
Governor DeWine stated that while he currently sees no need for tweaks to the law, he remains open to re-evaluation as more data becomes available.