COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Sweeping criminal justice legislation signed Tuesday by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine will allow police to stop people solely for holding a cellphone while driving, with certain exceptions.
“This bill is about a lot more than pulling people over and handing out tickets,” DeWine said. “It's about changing the culture around distracted driving, and normalizing the fact that distracted driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.”
The proposal would prohibit drivers from “using, holding, or physically supporting” a cellphone, with some exceptions, such as if they are stopped at a red light, using a speakerphone function without holding the phone, or holding a phone to their ears for a call but not using texting or typing functions.
DeWine previously said the distracted-driving measure would spare many families from losing a loved one. The DeWines lost their daughter Becky to a car accident in 1993.
The legislation, which received bipartisan support in the House and Senate, makes a host of other changes to Ohio law. It will let inmates earn more time off prison sentences and make it easier to keep some criminal records out of the public eye. It will also decriminalize fentanyl test strips, make strangulation a separate offense, outlaw fertility fraud by doctors, and mandate age-appropriate education about child sexual abuse prevention in schools, among other changes.
State lawmakers also included a provision to throw out the statute of limitations for attempted aggravated murder. The bill's sponsor has said that change is in response to a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling that the timeline for charging defendants with this crime runs out six years after it was committed.
DeWine also has signed a separate bill that creates the felony offense of swatting — when someone knowingly reports a false emergency that prompts response by law enforcement, such as a kidnapping, school shooting or other violent crimes.
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.