On July 1, a new law banned Indiana drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. Governor Eric Holcomb signed the bill into law in March 2020 to fight against distracted driving, which causes over 10,000 accidents per year in the state.
Under the new law, it is illegal for a motorist to drive while holding a mobile device, including a smartphone or tablet. The law prohibits drivers from talking on the phone and from briefly holding the phone to check the weather or a traffic app. Drivers may not even hold their phone at a red light because they are still physical control of their vehicle.
The law permits motorists to hold their device while driving only when it is necessary to call 911 in a “bona fide” emergency. It is also permissible for drivers to use phones in hands-free mode with voice-operated technology, or when mounted on the dashboard.
Motorists who violate the law can be fined up to $500 and may lose their driver’s license upon repeat violations. However, drivers who receive a ticket for using a cell phone while driving before July 1, 2021, will not receive points on their license. This grace period allows time for a “cultural shift” in attitude toward using the phone while driving.
The law intends to reduce both the number of deaths and accidents caused by distracted driving. According to the Indiana State Police, the 10,400 distracted driving crashes in 2019 resulted in 2,000 injuries and 19 deaths.
“Distracted driving increases the risk of a crash by more than 3½ times and is a leading killer of teenagers in America. This is unacceptable and avoidable,” Governor Holcomb said.
Indiana law already bans texting, typing, sending, or reading text messages, but the police have found it difficult to enforce. Law enforcement is optimistic that the new prohibition against holding mobile devices will make it easier to spot offenders.
“[Under] the prior law they could view a website, use Google Maps and actually be reading while driving and were not in violation of the Distracted Driving Law,” Richard Kivett, a lieutenant with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, told IndyStar via email.
Now, with few exceptions, anyone holding a cell phone will be in violation.