Ohio traffic crashes have significantly decreased in the six months following the April enactment of strengthened distracted driving laws in Ohio. The new prohibits all drivers, in most circumstances, from using or holding a cell phone or electronic device while driving.
The new law went into effect with a six-month grace period, in which law enforcement issued warnings as part of an effort to educate motorists about the new law. The grace period ended this week, and law enforcement officers will now begin to issue citations.
There are some exceptions to the new law, including allowing adult drivers to make or receive calls while using a hands-free device. Adult drivers are also permitted to use GPS if they begin navigation before getting on the road. Adult drivers are still permitted to hold a phone directly to their ear for a phone call, but devices may only be activated with a single touch or swipe while driving.
Adult drivers are also permitted to hold or use electronic devices while stopped at a traffic light or parked on a road or highway during an emergency or road closure. Both adults and juveniles can use phones at any time to report an emergency to first responders.
New preliminary data from the Ohio State Highway Patrol shows that distracted driving crashes hit a record low in September 2023 when compared to each month dating back at least to January 2018. Distracted driving crashes peaked in May 2018 with 1,383 crashes as compared to last month’s low of 576 crashes.
“In just six months, this law is saving lives by changing the culture around distracted driving and changing the behavior of drivers behind the wheel,” said Governor Mike DeWine. “I am grateful to every driver who has chosen to put their phones down, and I encourage other drivers to commit to doing the same. There is no acceptable amount of distracted driving.”
To encourage more drivers to follow the law, the Ohio State Highway Patrol will conduct high-visibility traffic enforcement on distracted driving corridors throughout Ohio, including on I-71 in Delaware County; I-77 in Summit County, I-70 in Guernsey County; and U.S. 35 in Jackson County.
The impact of the new law is also reflected in the total number of overall traffic crashes in Ohio, supporting the theory that the actual number of crashes caused by distracted driving is underreported. With the exception of April 2020 when significantly fewer people were traveling due to the COVID pandemic, September 2023 had the lowest number of overall crashes in nearly six years.
The total number of traffic crashes was at its highest in January 2018 at 29,264 crashes as compared to approximately 14,458 traffic crashes last month, a difference of more than 50 percent.
When comparing the first nine months of 2022 and 2023, there were nearly 23,000 fewer overall traffic crashes this year. Traffic fatalities also decreased during this time period with approximately three dozen fewer people killed.
“We know every time someone takes their focus off the road, even for just a few seconds, they put their life and the lives of others in danger,” said Colonel Charles A. Jones, Ohio State Highway Patrol superintendent. “Distracted driving is unsafe and irresponsible and in a split second, the consequences can be devastating.”
“There is still more work to do, but we expect an even bigger drop in distracted driving now that enforcement is in effect and more educational messaging is available to drivers,” said Andy Wilson, Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. “We have seen again and again how laws like this one raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and have reduced drivers’ phone use.”
A new poll by the Fix Our Roads Ohio Coalition found that, out of 1,000 licensed Ohio drivers, 90 percent were aware of Ohio’s new distracted driving laws and 75 percent said that they have cut back on phone usage while driving.
“We constantly remind drivers to move over and slow down for our Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) crews, but they won’t even see our men and women if they’re looking at their phone instead of the road ahead,” said ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks. “I’m encouraged that we’re already seeing positive momentum from this new law, but we hope to see the number of crashes continue to drop.”