New bill may reform Indiana’s distracted driving law

New bill may reform Indiana’s distracted driving law

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - A group of elected officials alongside law enforcement are calling for a crackdown on distracted drivers across Indiana.

Governor Eric Holcomb says Hoosiers must join nearly two dozen other states and pass a hands-free device driving law.

One law enforcement leader says the current rules are hard to enforce.

AAA is weighing in on the issue, too. According to their website, distracted driving kills an average of nine people and injures more than a thousand people every day in America.

Governor Holcomb says it’s unacceptable and avoidable.

"We know for a fact that crashes occur throughout Indiana every single day because of that cell phone,” Indiana State Trooper Todd Ringle said.

Distracting driving increases the risk of a crash by three and half times, Governor Eric Holcomb explained during his State of the State this week before adding it’s a leading killer of teens in the U.S.

“That’s why we must join 21 other states that have already passed a hands-free device driving law,” Governor Holcomb told the crowd.

Tina and Lorin Smith were there for the speech and received a standing ovation. The Governor says both of them lost a leg when they were side-swiped on their motorcycles by a driver on their cell phone.

“Rather than ask, ‘why me?’ they immediately asked themselves how they can be part of a solution, and they became advocates from that day on,” Gov. Holcomb recalled.

Friday morning in Evansville at Hwy. 41 North near Lynch, authorities say the driver of a truck became distracted and ran into the back of a school bus. Luckily, no students were on board, and both drivers are okay.

[Related: Highway 41 back open after truck and school bus crash]

However, situations like this are why House Bill 1070 was introduced on Monday.

As written, a driver would not be able to hold or use a cell phone while the vehicle is moving unless it’s used with a hands-free device or voice-operated technology or calling 911 during an emergency.

“So, if I look over at a driver, I don’t know whether their texting, scrolling through their contacts, or playing a game. And, if I don’t know exactly what they’re doing, I can’t take enforcement action,” Trooper Ringle described.

State representative Holli Sullivan is a sponsor. We reached out to her office Friday afternoon.

In a statement, her team says:

“Indiana already has a law that prohibits texting while driving. Unfortunately, law enforcement officials have found the law ineffective because of the huge exceptions and loopholes, as well as finding it difficult to enforce.”

“If we can get a hands-free law, there is no doubt, we will be able to enforce the law better and be able to save lives and reduce injuries on our highways,” Trooper Ringle told 14 News.

Penalties are unclear for now, and the bill does not address fines.

In talking with Sullivan’s office Friday afternoon, they say there could be more movement next week.

It’s a story we’ll keep following.

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