ANDERSON — Starting Wednesday, drivers in Indiana will be banned from using handheld cell phones while driving.
The Hands Free Law was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb to combat distracted driving, making Indiana the 22nd state to prohibit drivers from using a cell phone while operating a moving vehicle.
Texting and driving is already prohibited in Indiana except for in “bona fide” emergencies.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, states with hands-free driving laws saw a nearly 20% decrease in traffic deaths in the two years after passing the law.
Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger said the law prohibiting texting and driving has not been enforced as well as it could have been, and that Madison County still has an issue with drivers holding their phones while driving.
Violation of the Hands Free Law can result in a fine of up to $500 and potential loss of a driver’s license if violations are repeated. Mellinger said that he would recommend that deputies generally give a written warning to drivers.
“However, if the person is driving erratically or showing other driving behaviors that are a serious concern at the time, then I think a citation is in order,” Mellinger said, emphasizing that a deputy can determine whether phone use was the cause of the erratic driving.
State Rep. Terri Austin, Anderson, noted that the implementation of the law will be a learning curve for many. But, she said, ultimately it will save lives and prevent accidents.
“I think any distraction contributes to an increase in accidents, but this seemed to be the most viable measure that the state could take,” Austin said. “The point is that we are trying to save lives, pure and simple.”
Mellinger doesn’t think enforcement of the new law will be challenging for deputies in Madison County.
“There are so many people who abuse their driving privileges by paying too much attention to the phone,” he said. “It’s really not too difficult to stop people who are driving erratically and then find out they’re using their phone.”