By Michael Ganson

Ohio has a new “hands free” law for electronic devices such as cell phone, tablets, etc. that went into effect on April 3, 2023. The new law prohibits the use of all handheld electronic devices while driving. The new law is very expansive. It states that no person shall drive any motor vehicle anywhere open to the public for vehicular traffic “while using, holding or physically supporting with any part of the person’s body an electric wireless communication device.” And, significantly, this new law is a primary offense like running a red light. As a consequence, if you are driving in a manner that it appears you are distracted to a police office, the police can immediately stop and detain you by claiming they could actually see you violating the law. During the stop, the officer will also be looking for potential criminal offenses. Therefore, what you do or say during if you are stopped and detained is extremely important.

Although the new law is an “unclassified misdemeanor,” the first offense shall result in a fine of up to one hundred and fifty dollars and a two point assessment, a second offense within two years of the first conviction shall result in a fine of up to two hundred and fifty dollars and another two point assessment, and a third offense within two years of the second conviction shall result in a fine of up to five hundred dollars and may result in a license suspension for ninety days and a four point assessment.

Since the new law does not only use the term “cell phones,” it appears the new law applies to all electronic devices and not just cell phones. The broad language used in the new law would include the use of any wireless device; such as a tablet, laptop, or even an electronic watch that has wireless capabilities. The new law defines an “electronic wireless device” as any device that is capable of displaying any visual image or any wireless device that is able to send or receive communications. And a driver violates this new distracted driving law if they use a wireless device and that device is touching any part of their person while they are driving.

Of course, as in most other laws, there are exceptions to the new law. So, what are the exceptions? Some of the legal uses of an electronic device while driving are the making of emergency calls, when the vehicle is parked or stopped at a red light or stop sign; swiping the phone to answer a call; holding the cell phone to the ear provided no other interaction with the cell phone occurs during the call, engaging in hands-free calls using a speaker, earbuds, or a vehicle speaker; using the electronic device for navigation as long as the navigation was begun prior to driving or engaging in one-swipe modifications during driving.

Finally, remember that every traffic stop, including a distracted driving stop, will involve the police officer(s) observing you, your passengers, and your vehicle for other, more serious violations. Law enforcement frequently looks for active warrants for arrest, seatbelt and child car-seat usage, drug and alcohol offenses, concealed weapons offenses, kidnapping and abduction, trafficking drugs or people, etc.

If you are stopped for any traffic offense, please be sure to cooperate with the police officer’s request for driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, keep your hands visible, cooperate in signing any citation if given one, inform the officer you would like to speak to your criminal defense attorney if the police officer starts to question you, never consent to a search of your person or vehicle, and to fully comply with the police officer’s commands if being arrested, but clearly stating that you are NOT and do NOT waive any of your rights by cooperating with the police officer’s commands during the arrest.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide only general legal information and is not intended to be relied upon for specific legal issues or any particular legal matters. For specific legal issues or any particular legal matters, the reader is advised to consult with and secure the legal advice of an attorney of their choice.