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Indiana moving toward hands-free driving restrictions

Incoming legislation would ban cellphone use by drivers of moving vehicles

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Indiana may soon further cut down on distracted driving with legislation aimed at making Indiana a hands-free driving state.

State Rep. Mike Karickhoff (R-Kokomo) is acting as coauthor of a bill set to drop in the upcoming legislative session that will restrict Hoosier drivers from utilizing their cellphones while driving. The exception to that rule would be that drivers could utilize Bluetooth technologies integrated into their vehicles, headsets, or speakerphones while vehicles are in motion. The goal of the legislation, he said, is to ensure drivers’ eyes remain on the road.

“I know not everybody uses that technology, but more and more people are aware of it. There is no question that it is extremely dangerous to be distracted while you’re driving while dialing a phone number or looking down,” said Karickhoff.

If the legislation were enacted, Indiana would join 16 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, in having such restrictions in the books.

While a copy of the bill was not yet available to the public, Karickhoff said a goal would be to keep the legislation as simple as possible. In its current state, he said it read, “Provides that a person may not hold or use a telecommunications device in the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is in motion unless the device is used in conjunction with hands-free or voice-operated technology or used to call 911 to report a bona fide emergency.”

But, certain exemptions likely would be carved out in the law in addition to the allowance for 911 calls. Some, he said, would include law enforcement officers needing to utilize their cellphones in the line of duty. Similarly, an exemption is slated for construction and utility workers who may need to use a phone as part of their job.

The hands-free bill, if passed, would be the second such restriction put into place in the state in the last decade. The current law, which specifically bans texting and driving, went into effect in 2011. Similarly, Indiana also does not allow drivers under the age of 18 to operate a cellphone in any capacity while on the road.

The efficacy of such a bill appears to be up in the air in combating distracted driving, which is a leading factor in fatal crashes.

According to information from AAA, “Published studies to date have yielded mixed results in terms of reductions in phone use while driving versus reduced crashes, which is the primary goal of the countermeasure.”

There is, however, some evidence that suggests that banning handheld cellphone use leads to long-term reductions in the behavior. For example, California enacted hands-free legislation in 2011. A report by the state’s Department of Transportation showed ongoing drops in hand-held usage. In 2017, the usage rate was 3.9 percent, down from 7.6 percent in 2016 and 5.4 percent in 2015.

Regardless, Karickhoff said he’s seen the issue too often, noticing a plethora of drivers using cellphones while driving as he makes his commutes to the Statehouse. In one anecdote, during a trip to Indianapolis he counted drivers who appeared to be using cellphones and saw 38 people doing so during his hour-long commute. That, he said, wasn’t even during rush hour traffic.

“I think Indiana is ready to go hands-free,” said Karickhoff. “I think it’s a movement we’re seeing across the country, and I think it’s good policy. I’m happy to coauthor the bill, and hopefully we’ll get something done with it this session.”

The primary author of the bill is Holli Sullivan (R-Evansville) along with Jim Pressell (R-LaPorte).