Indiana's hands-free law showing results
Starting July 1, points can be assessed against licenses
11 hrs ago
Tribune-Star file/Austen Leake
This is a no-no: Effective July 1, 2020, driving with a phone in hand became a traffic offense. Starting in July 2021, drivers also can have points assessed against their licenses.
That guy driving solo down the road talking a mile a minute to no one in particular — and with no cell phone in sight — is probably setting a good example of following Indiana’s hands-free driving law.
Since July 1, 2020, Hoosiers have been required to put down their cell phone and drive.
In the seven months since, police agencies have mostly issued warnings to motorists rather than writing tickets when they stop a driver with a phone or other electronic device in hand.
“We have seen a sharp decrease in the number of drivers holding a phone while driving,” Sheriff Clark Cottom of Sullivan County said recently when asked about enforcement of the new law.
While Cottom did not have a count of citations or warnings issued by his agency, he said he thinks driver compliance with the law has reduced rear-end collisions.
“Oftentimes, closing speed is the factor,” Cottom said. “You take your eyes off the road for just a brief second, then look up to find brake lights closing fast.”
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Indiana law enforcement agencies were directed to emphasize education and enforcement to gain compliance in the early months of the law. However, under the law, points against drivers’ license can be assessed starting in July 2021.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said states with hands-free driving laws have seen about a 20% decrease in traffic deaths in the next two years after passing the law.
Indiana’s crash statistics in the last six months of 2020 do show a drop in distracted driving crashes.
According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, total collisions with distracted driving as a factor dropped from 10,132 in 2019 – as submitted by all law enforcement agencies in the state – to a 10-year low of 8,761 in 2020.
ICJ communications director Ben Gavelek said traffic tickets issued under the new hands-free law totaled 1,899 from July to December 2020. Police also issued 5,088 warnings during that time.
Terre Haute Police have focused more on verbal warnings for device-handling drivers, said Sgt. Ryan Adamson.
“We’ve written zero distracted driving tickets,” Adamson said. “We’ve been encouraging our officers to give verbal warnings. The state encouraged warnings for the first year.”
Parke County Sheriff Justin Cole said his agency has issued about 10 or 12 warnings so far for hands-free violations.
Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse said his department has issued eight citations for hands-free violations as of mid-January.
“All of our citation numbers have decreased because of COVID-19,” Plasse said, “and we directed our deputies not to stop vehicles for minor issues because of that [coronavirus].”
But that doesn’t mean drivers should ignore the law.
The Terre Haute City Clerk’s Office, which processes all driving citations issued in Vigo County, has seen 10 tickets issued under the hands-free driving law, said clerk Michelle Edwards.
The violation is a Class C infraction and a driver could pay a fine of up to $500 and receive points against their license.
Sgt. Matt Ames of the Indiana State Police said troopers are talking to offending motorists about pairing their cell phone to their car for hands-free use if needed. In newer cars with Bluetooth technology built in, cell phones can be linked to voice controls. Devices can also be plugged in via auxiliary cables, earpieces or other devices that allow hands-free communications.
Or a driver can just turn off the phone and drive.
The same law applies to all electronic hand-held devices that can take a driver’s attention away from the act of driving, such as tablets and smart-watches when used for texting or checking email.
Mobile devices for turn-by-turn GPS navigation, including apps such as Google Maps, should be placed in mounts or brackets so the driver’s hands remain on the steering wheel.
In 2011, Indiana passed a law prohibiting texting while driving . That law did not address holding a mobile device for other purposes, such as talking on the phone, however. While being difficult to enforce, the law also did not result in a reduction in distracted driving crashes.
Sgt. Ames said the agency logged 2,781 collisions due to distracted driving in the last six months of 2020. Of those, five crashes resulted in deaths.
ISP also issued 138 citations and 1,331 warnings, Ames said.
“It’s not always about writing tickets,” Ames said. “It’s about saving lives. We will continue to educate the public about the law and take proper enforcement actions whether it be a citation or a warning.”
Gavelek said the public should expect to hear more about the new law later this spring.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.