Officers see success with hands-free driving law

By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
cstephenson@dcherald.com

A little more than a year since Indiana banned cellphone use while driving, the law is working in terms of reducing distracted driving.

“We believe it is helping prevent accidents,” said David Henderson, public information officer for the Indiana State Police Jasper Post. “Texting and driving is just as dangerous as drinking and driving, so it really is saving lives.”

The law, which bans motorists from holding or using a cellphone while driving unless they are calling 911, builds off an older law that only banned texting while driving. Henderson said this law is more enforceable, although officers don’t typically use it as a primary reason to pull someone over. Usually they’ll ticket someone if they were also speeding or breaking the law in some other way, unless they’re “being blatant about it,” he said.

Officers typically only gave out warnings for the first six months and used the law as an educational tool. Most people are more aware now, Henderson said.

In the past 12 months, ISP has issued 895 tickets and 372 warnings regarding the law. Across the state, police issued about 5,500 tickets and more than 10,600 warnings from July 2020 to this July, compared to 635 tickets in the year before the law was enacted.

“A lot of people are using Bluetooth or using the airpods in their ears,” Henderson said, “or some people are pulling off the road. We check interstates three times a day, and there’s often someone pulled off to the side to be on their phone.”

Studies of the law’s effect on accidents are still in progress, since it’s still relatively new. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated states that adopt hands-free laws see about a 20% decrease in deaths within the first two years of the law going into effect.

Although using a cellphone while driving may not typically be enough reason to be pulled over, the consequences for doing so have recently been ramped up. Earlier this month, the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles announced violations of the law will add four points to a license. Twenty points within a two-year period will result in a suspended license.

Additionally, the state is currently in the midst of law enforcement’s annual Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign. The campaign highlights a constant police presence searching for drunk drivers and continues through Labor Day, which is typically considered one of the most dangerous holidays for drunk driving.

Henderson emphasized that phones can still be used to dial 911, and drivers can still call, send texts or use GPS as long as it’s via a hands-free feature in the car.




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