The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) is reminding drivers to eliminate any distractions while driving during National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Distracted driving is defined as any non-driving activity with the potential to take the driver's focus from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing. 

Last April, Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 288 which made distracted driving a primary offense. Under this law, a police officer can pull you over if they see you holding a cell phone or supporting it with any part of your body as you drive.

A six-month grace period was given to drivers after the bill was signed to lecture them about the new law if they were pulled over for using their phone while driving. It's been enforced since October.

For the first violation, drivers can expect a $150 fine and two points on their driver's license. A second violation will net a driver a $250 fine and three points on their license and a third violation and beyond will net drivers a fine of up to $500, four points on their license, and the possibility of a 90-day license suspension.

"Distracted driving is one of the primary reasons for traffic crashes," said Carlos Castellanos, Sergeant with Ohio State Highway Patrol Canfield Post. "So that is something we're looking for while we're out on the road, 24/7."

Despite seeing 119% in distracted driving citations in 2023 compared to 2022, there were 28 fewer distracted driving-related fatal car crashes in Ohio in that same period, the lowest in the last five years.

"I've seen a lot of texting and driving," Castellanos said. "I've also seen a lot of cell phones up to their ears or even people thinking that just because it's on speaker phone, holding the phone up, that that's allowed. But that's not allowed."

Castellanos said from 2019 to 2023, Mahoning County specifically alone has had 1,222 distracted-driving-related traffic crashes. "That's one of the main reasons why we take distracted driving so seriously and work to enforce that law every day," Castellanos added. 

OSHP said distracted driving enforcement will continue to be a priority beyond Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Drivers can use their phones to report an emergency to law enforcement, a hospital health care provider, a fire department, or other similar emergency entity. Click here for more exceptions to the law. 

OSHP reminds drivers to call #677 to report any unsafe driving or for assistance on Ohio roadways.