Panel endorses drivers not using handheld phones

By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — A push to combat distracted driving with a ban on the use of handheld cellphones cleared its first hurdle Wednesday toward becoming the law in Indiana.

An Indiana House committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill making cellphone use by all motorists illegal unless they are using hands-free or voice-operated technology, except in emergencies. The proposal would toughen the state’s current ban on texting while driving that officials have said has proven to be unenforceable and doesn’t include actions such as emailing, using apps such as Snapchat or viewing videos.

Committee members heard emotional testimony from several people who had been injured or had family members killed in crashes caused by distracted driving.

Kira Hudson of Indianapolis spoke from a wheelchair as she described her 2005 crash into trees that happened while she talked on a cellphone. The crash left her unable to walk. She told the committee about also suffering head injuries in a 2016 chain-reaction crash caused by a distracted truck driver and about often seeing cars swerve out of their highway lanes.

“Fifteen years ago, people would’ve called the cops on that car, thinking that they were under the influence,” Hudson said. “Today, we acknowledge they are on their cellphone and do nothing.”

State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said conservative figures show that distracted driving was to blame in at least 860 injury crashes and 48 crashes with deaths across Indiana last year.

The aim of the tougher law isn’t to restrict actions such as drivers changing radio stations or adjusting their car’s air conditioning, he said.

“This is about getting it out of the hands,” Carter said. “Technology allows that to happen for almost everybody. If the technology is not in the car, you can add it to your phone.”

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb supports Indiana joining at least 20 other states with similar bans, but some GOP legislators have questioned whether such regulation is proper for government and how police officers could determine how a cellphone was being used. The bill would make violations a ticketed infraction with a maximum $500 fine.

The full House could vote in the coming week on whether to endorse the bill and send it to the Senate for consideration.

Amber Brown told committee members about how her brother was fatally struck by a distracted driver six years ago while walking along a road in the central Indiana community of Lebanon with his girlfriend. She urged legislators to approve the hands-free law, saying distracted driving destroys lives.

“When we focus our vision in the center of a ... rectangle in our hands our peripheral vision does not extend outside the cabin of our vehicle,” Brown said. “If your nose is in your phone, your eyes are not on the road. It is that simple.”




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