House Bill 95, enacted last year and effective on Oct. 29, created a new offense called “Driving While Texting”, in violation of RC 4511.204.
This is a minor misdemeanor, and we have already begun to see citations for this offense.
The same bill also created a specification which may apply to any moving violation — called “Distracted Driving”, which is not a separate offense.
Instead, if a driver commits a moving offense and the distracted driving is a contributing factor, the driver may receive an enhanced penalty of an additional fine — up to $100 more than the normal fine. This has created some logistical issues.
The Uniform Traffic Ticket doesn’t really have a good way to deal with this additional specification.
Originally, the Ohio State Highway Patrol was directing troopers to list it in the “remarks” section. The Patrol soon discovered that that made it easy to miss, and courts weren’t capturing it with their automated Case Management Systems.
Beginning in December, the Patrol began directing troopers to list it in the dropdown list of the “other offenses” section on the ticket. The troopers are directed to give a brief description of the distraction in the “remarks” section.
This is a good practice, because it alerts judges and magistrates to the additional specification at arraignment, and informs them of the type of offense alleged.
This will be very helpful in cases where a defendant pleads guilty.
Officers who believe that distracted driving contributed to a moving offense should list “Distracted Driving” in the “Other Offense” box, and specify “4511.991” as the ORC section.
Our staff will not treat that as a separate offense, but will note that when that happens, additional penalties may apply.
Unless the original offense requires a personal appearance, the officer may still advise the driver of a waiver amount, but if there is a distracted driving specification, that waiver amount must be increased by $100.
That means, for instance, that a first speeding offense — which would normally have a $155 — waiver would have a $255 waiver if distracted driving is marked.
Drivers do have the option of taking a “Distracted Driving Safety Course” offered by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. That course is available free online at https://www.drivertraining.ohio.gov/courses.aspx.
If they provide the clerk with proof of attendance, then the $100 additional penalty will not apply.
No any additional court costs apply for either the additional $100 penalty nor for taking the safety course.
Mike Daugherty is Judge of the Clinton County Municipal Court.