Effective October 29, House Bill 95 became law and lawmakers hope it will be a significant deterrent to distracted driving. The law is being proclaimed “an effective tool for law enforcement to enforce dangerous driving.” House Bill 95 established Ohio’s unique approach of combating distracted driving by enhancing existing moving violations. The new traffic law is found at O.R.C. 4511.991, and allows the police to ticket drivers who violate another traffic law for “distracted driving.” Under the new law, “Engaging in any activity that is not necessary to the operation of a vehicle and impairs, or reasonably would be expected to impair, the ability of the operator to drive the vehicle safely,” is considered distracted driving.
So, if you are swapping out compact discs as you drive down the interstate in your 2003 Honda Civic, or trying to get your blue tooth device to connect to the sound system in your 2018 Tesla Model X, and you cross the fog line, thus failing to maintain your lane in violation of O.R.C. 4511.33, you can be charged with two traffic violations – Failing to maintain your lane, and distracted driving. Or, if you simply slow down to a speed on the interstate that a police officer considers “less than is reasonable or proper,” you can be ticketed for driving too slowly in violation of O.R.C. 4511.21 and distracted driving.
The punishment for the distracted-driving add-on to a moving violation is either $100 or a distracted-driving safety course, which can be taken online and is found at https://www.drivertraining.ohio.gov/courses.aspx. If you prove you completed the course, the additional $100 fine will be dropped. Under the law, there is currently no limit to the number of times that you can have the $100 fine for a distracted-driving add-on to a moving violation dismissed by watching the video.
The effect this law will have on lawsuits involving accidents caused by distracted driving is yet to be determined. First example: If you are cited for distracted driving, but then the charge is dismissed because you watched the video, is the citation admissible? Is the fact that you watched the video to get the charge dismissed evidence of anything? Answer: Probably not, but given there is no case law on point yet, only time will tell. Second example: If you choose to plead guilty and pay the $100 fine is it now admissible? Answer: Also probably not since “paying a ticket” without challenging the facts is not admissible as evidence of guilt. Third example: If you challenge the ticket on a not guilty plea, but you are convicted by the court for distracted driving upon hearing the evidence would the conviction be admissible? Answer: Probably yes since there was an actual finding of guilt on the facts.