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Indiana Lawmakers Could Close Distracted Texting & Driving Loophole in 2017

Jason Reese

You know that look.

When the eyes of a fellow driver drop to his or lap, face gently illuminated by a glowing screen.

And while smartphone use while driving has become more commonplace it’s no less dangerous.

Mobile devices are involved in more than 1.5 million crashes a year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. And while one would hope for common sense to prevail, it’s going to take regulation and enforcement to curtail cellphone use on the roadways.

Attempts were made to restrict cell phone use among drivers in Indiana as early as 2008. But it took another three years for legislators to muster the political will to get anything done.

In 2011, the Indiana General Assembly made it illegal for drivers to send or read text messages and e-mail without the use of a hands-free device while in a moving vehicle. Well intentioned as it might have been, the law has proven too specific to be very useful.

That’s because there’s no way for police or anyone else to tell whether a driver is using text or e-mail, as opposed to any other function of a smartphone. Think of everything a mobile device can do, all those apps.

According to the Indiana State Police, a mere 186 drivers were cited for violating Indiana’s texting and driving law in 2013. Officers have not been empowered to look at the phone of a suspected texter, they can only ask the driver and take his or her word for it.

This problem was highlighted in very public fashion in 2016 when the defendant in a federal drug case got off on a technicality. He had been browsing music on his phone, not texting, and the heroin seized from his vehicle could not be admitted into court.

Currently in Indiana, any driver caught texting while driving may face a fine of up to $500. Those under 18, meanwhile, may not use mobile devices of any kind.

To truly deter cellphones on the roadway, however, a law must be crafted that restricts their use more meaningfully, such as requiring hands-free or voice-activated systems. On this front, Indiana could take a cue from several other jurisdictions.

Drivers are forbidden from talking on a hand-held cell phone in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, drivers cannot use text messaging in 46 states and the District of Columbia.

While little has been done to close the legal loophole in the 5-plus years since the bill was passed, lawmakers have certainly tried.

Indiana Senator Pete Miller famously sponsored a hand-free bill in 2015 after he totaled his SUV when he struck an overpass while attempting to call his children’s orthodontist. Senate Bill 240 would have required use of a hands-free device by any driver making a call had it not died in committee.

Just last year, Senate Bill 79 called to limit drivers’ use of mobile devices to GPS and tools to locate a gas station.

Perhaps 2017 will be the year that Indiana steps into the 21st century and adopts a mobile phone law with some teeth.

Have You Been Injured in an Accident?

If you or your loved ones are injured as the result of the poor decisions of a distracted driver this holiday season. At Wagner Reese can assist you in pursuing the compensation you deserve and may need for medical care and to cover a loss of wages while injured. There is no risk, as we never collect any kind of fee unless your case is settled or won. Contact us today at (888) 204-8440 for more information or to schedule a free consultation.


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