What are the laws concerning the use of smartphones and other potential distractions while operating a vehicle in the Buckeye State?
Drivers have faced distractions ever since the first American gasoline-powered vehicle was built by John William Lambert in Ohio City, Ohio more than a century ago. However, the rapid growth of technology—particularly the invention of smartphones, which allow us to access the internet on the go—has made distracted driving a bigger problem than ever before.
Driving while texting, or eating, or dialing a phone should be as culturally unacceptable as drunk driving is today," said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. “When drivers choose to do anything that distracts them from paying full attention to the road, they choose to risk their own lives, the lives of their passengers, and the lives of everyone else around them.”
In this article, we’ll take a look at distracted driving in Ohio, including the laws that govern the use of smartphones in the Buckeye State and how distracted driving may impact your personal injury claim.
Ohio distracted driving statistics
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 9 people are killed every day across the United States in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver.
In Ohio, 52 people died and 508 were seriously injured as a result of distracted-driving crashes in 2018. Since 2013, the number of accidents involving distracted drivers, as well as the seriousness of the accidents, has risen steadily.
|Ohio distracted driving accidents (2013-2018)|
|Year||Serious injury||Death||Total crashes|
|Source: Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force|
Though these numbers are alarming, distracted driving is vastly underreported because it’s difficult to prove unless a police officer sees it or a driver admits to it.
Common types of distractions
A recent report published by the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force explains that there are 3 recognized types of driver distractions:
- Visual. A visual distraction occurs when you take your eyes off the road. Examples include texting, browsing online, and turning around to talk to someone in the back seat.
- Manual. A manual distraction occurs when you take your hands off the steering wheel. Examples include holding a smartphone, eating, drinking, smoking, and putting on makeup.
- Cognitive. A cognitive distraction occurs when you take your mind off the road. Examples include talking to another passenger, talking on the phone, and thinking about work.
Multiple studies have shown that distracted driving significantly increases the risk of a crash. For example, a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that engaging in visual-manual tasks, such as reaching for a phone, triples a driver’s risk of a crash.
What’s more, studies have shown that a driver talking on a mobile phone will look but fail to see up to 50% of the information in their driving environment. This phenomenon is called “inattention blindness,” and it occurs when the brain shifts between the task of driving and using a mobile or smartphone.
Distracted driving laws in Ohio
In Ohio, it’s illegal for any driver to text while driving.
- If the driver is under 18, texting while driving is a primary offense and an officer can stop the driver for violating the law. Penalties for the 1st violation include a $150 fine and a 60-day license suspension. Penalties for the 2nd violation include a $300 fine and a 1-year license suspension.
- If the driver is over 18, texting while driving is a secondary offense and police can only ticket the person if they’re pulled over for some other traffic offense. The maximum penalty for texting and driving is a fine of $150.
Additionally, if an Ohio driver violates some other traffic offense (such as operating a vehicle outside marked lanes or running a red light) and the officer determines that the driver was “distracted” in some way at the time of the offense (whether it be from operating an electronic device, eating, or applying makeup), the driver will be subject to a fine of up to $100 on top of the fine for the underlying offense.
Critics of Ohio’s distracted driving laws point out that the laws are confusing and almost impossible to enforce. Nevertheless, some officers, such as Officer Keith Conner in Columbus, Ohio, have made a point to try to enforce the law.
How distracted driving affects liability in an Ohio car accident
The fines for distracted driving are relatively minor. The real consequences arise when a distracted driver is involved in a car accident.
Under Ohio law, a driver is negligent if they fail to use reasonable care and someone is harmed because of that failure.
When a driver causes a car accident because they were distracted (e.g., they were texting and driving or applying makeup while driving), the driver is negligent and responsible for paying the damages caused by the accident.
What to do if you’ve been in an accident with a distracted driver
If you’ve been in an accident with a distracted driver, you will have to prove that the driver was distracted so that you can recover damages. Here are some steps you can take following an accident to accomplish this goal:
- Call emergency services (911). If you’re injured, your first priority should be to call an ambulance. Remember, some symptoms don’t appear until hours or even days after an accident. For this reason, you should see a doctor immediately after your crash, even if you don’t think you were seriously injured.
- Tell the police. When the police arrive, be sure to tell them why you think the other driver was distracted. The police can conduct an initial investigation and, if they find evidence that the driver was distracted, include this vital information in the police report.
- Gather information. Be sure to get the other driver’s contact information (their name, address, registration number, and license number). In addition, write down the contact information for any witnesses. Finally, take pictures of the scene, the damages, and anything else that’s relevant to the accident.
- Contact an attorney. Proving that another driver was distracted can be challenging. Fortunately, experienced personal injury attorneys establish fault for a living. An attorney can subpoena phone records, review security footage, depose drivers and passengers, and take other steps to establish that the driver was negligent.
Distracted driving accident resources
Here are some resources to help you find an attorney near you and prepare for your first meeting:
- Enjuris lawyer directory
- Preparing to meet with a personal injury attorney
- How to talk to a lawyer for the first time
- How to choose the best lawyer