There are three different kinds of distracted driving: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distraction occurs when drivers take their eyes off the road. Manual distraction occurs when drivers take their hands off the wheel. Cognitive distraction occurs when drivers take their minds off the drive. Any one of these distractions can be dangerous all on their own, but texting and driving is particularly concerning because it causes injury accidents, involving all three types of distraction. More than 85 crashes were caused by distracted drivers in Indiana last year.
In order to decrease injuries and fatalities associated with distracted driving, Indiana lawmakers have recently implemented a hands-free law for Hoosier motorists. Although distracted driving can take many forms, this law targets texting and driving by prohibiting drivers from having a cell phone in hand while their car is in drive.
The History Behind Hands-Free
Legislation seeking to limit texting and driving by Hoosier motorists goes back as far as 2011 when a bill was passed prohibiting drivers from texting while on the road. This law, however, left almost every other use of a cell phone while driving legal, including watching TV, playing mobile games, and talking over the phone. This oversight eventually led to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling the law unenforceable, as police have no way to tell whether a motorist is texting or participating in the legal use of a cell phone. This was decided in United States v. Paniagua-Garcia, which temporarily made texting and driving legal again in practice.
Since the first texting and driving law was ruled too vague to enforce in 2016, there were many other attempts to regulate cell phone usage at the wheel. However, none were successful until 2020, when Indiana was able to pass its hands-free law. It went into effect on the first of July of the next year, and Indiana motorists haven’t legally been able to hold a phone and drive since.
Indiana Under the Hands-Free Law
Though many laws can be complicated and difficult to understand, the hands-free law is actually relatively straightforward. It simply holds that drivers are not allowed to have a phone in their hand while on the road and that if they are caught using a phone, they will be subject to a fine and points on their driving record. All cell phone uses, including having a phone conversation, are prohibited if the driver is holding the phone in their hand.
The hands-free law doesn’t apply to other distractions, such as eating while driving or using a car’s stereo. Although the INDOT acknowledges that these factors can also contribute to accidents, the hands-free law is targeted at cell phone usage, and drivers can’t be penalized under the hands-free law if they take their hands off the wheel for something besides their phone. Also, cell phone usage is still allowed if drivers can operate the phone hands-free, such as using audio commands or Bluetooth. It doesn’t prohibit motorists from using their phones to navigate, communicate, or even listen to music, as long as these things are done with both hands still on the wheel.
Is the Indiana Hands-Free Law Effective?
Since the law was implemented, over 14,000 citations have been issued to Indiana motorists for breaking the hands-free law. This figure is only part of the number of total citations, which has actually decreased since the law was implemented. Records show fewer traffic violations after the hands-free law became effective. However, there isn’t any clear research that the law caused the lower number of citations, and, although citations are down, the number of crashes and fatalities is actually up. There hasn’t yet been evidence that the hands-free law has protected people from being injured or killed by distracted drivers.
On the whole, it isn’t clear whether banning cell phone usage for motorists has a significant effect on car crash numbers or not. Most legislation that bans texting or handheld phone usage is new and these laws can be difficult to enforce and study, so a clear consensus on their efficacy doesn’t yet exist. Some researchers believe that technology is moving faster than the law can and that legislators should focus on broadening the law rather than creating very specific bans.
Texting and Driving Nationally
Texting and driving make an auto accident 23 times more likely to happen. In 2020, distracted driving caused over 3,000 deaths, with texting and driving being one of the most common and deadly forms of distraction. Texting and driving is an epidemic that lawmakers are trying to combat every year. Most states have completely outlawed texting and driving and all states regulate it in some way.
In other states with hands-free driving laws, traffic fatalities have decreased by over 15%. Since threatening fines is one of the most effective ways to deter traffic violations, making holding a cell phone and driving a finable offense has, in other states that have had the laws for longer, been correlated to safer roadways. As state legislatures adopt regulations against texting and driving, the practice has been slowly decreasing, and American roads are gradually becoming safer for all.
Injured in an Indiana Traffic Accident? Call Stewart & Stewart Attorneys
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