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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine introduces new 'Hands-Free' legislation aimed at drivers who use their cell phones

The bipartisan bill would make driving while holding a phone a primary traffic offense.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at keeping drivers in Ohio from using their hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel.

Notably, the "Hands-Free Ohio" bill proposes making driving while holding a hand-held device a "primary offense" in nearly all cases. This includes texting, talking on the phone with the device to your ear, or even entering information into a GPS program.

"The use of wireless devices while driving has become so common that many drivers don't stop to consider the deadly consequences," DeWine said. "Although Ohio's current laws are well-intended, they simply haven't gone far enough to change the culture around using technology behind the wheel. By strengthening Ohio's laws, we believe we can change behaviors, prevent crashes, and save lives."

Under current law, drivers cannot be be pulled over only for texting; they can only be charged if they are pulled over for a current primary offense such as speeding or running a red light. If the person is found to be texting (presently a secondary offense), the maximum penalty is $150.

If the bill passes the legislature, Ohio police will be able to pull drivers over merely for using the hand-held phone. In addition, residents will face increased financial penalties for repeated violations, and could also have their licenses suspended after a third such citation.

State officials say 2019 was the second-deadliest year from traffic deaths in Ohio over the past decade (1,157), and that such deadly crashes have increased five of the past six years. Many are blaming the larger number of fatalities on the widespread use of smartphones.

"We have no doubt that fatal crashes in Ohio have increased due to smartphone use," State Sen. Sean J. O'Brien (D-Bazetta), who is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), said. "Other states that have enacted hands-free laws have seen significant reductions in traffic fatalities, and I'm confident that our Hands-Free Ohio bill will lead to more responsible driving all over the state."

Exemptions would include, but not be limited to, emergency calls, hands-free calls and texts, or single-swipe actions. Drivers would also still be able to use their phones' GPS systems, but must enter locations before operating the car and could not hold the devices with any part of their body.

Should the bill pass, the Ohio Department of Transportation would instruct law enforcement to issue warnings to drivers during the first six months it is in effect.

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