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Indiana's texting ban difficult to enforce

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Texting while driving is a Class C infraction in Indiana, with a fine of up to $500. But look around as you’re driving, and you’ll likely see at least a few motorists who appear to be fiddling with their phones.

Since July 1, 2011, Indiana Code 9-21-8-59 has prohibited texting while driving. It does not outlaw checking Facebook, searching for nearby restaurants, or any number of distracting activities that can be performed on a smartphone.

koch-eric-mug.jpg Koch

Police are not permitted to confiscate a phone for the purpose of determining whether someone was texting while driving, which leads some people to question the enforceability of the law. And others wonder whether the law will have any measureable effect on changing dangerous behaviors.

Enforceability

In Indiana, texting-while-driving is a primary offense, meaning officers can pull over a motorist for suspicion of texting alone.

Between July 1 last year and June 1, 2012, Indiana State Police issued 125 citations and 114 warnings for texting statute violations; in that same time, ISP issued 141,276 speeding citations and 48,889 seatbelt violation citations.

Chris Daniels, traffic safety resource prosecutor for the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said that most prosecutors have not seen an influx of texting tickets. “I cannot say whether it’s because the law has had a deterrent effect, difficulties in enforcement, or a combination of both,” he said.

Attorney and Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, authored House Bill 1129, which created the new statute.

“I think we are still watching it and getting feedback on it,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a perfect law – I’m not sure any law is perfect, and there had been some concern about the difficulty of enforcement. But at the same time, it does make a public policy statement.”

Koch said that failing to outlaw texting while driving could cause new and inexperienced drivers to assume it’s OK for them to text while driving.

“The data show that people do want to and try to comply with the law, so I think when we make a statement like we did – that people should not text and drive – people who want to be law-abiding will follow that,” he said.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, voted against the bill last year.

“I did vote against it, and the first reason is it’s unenforceable, and we’ve seen that and heard that from many law enforcement folks who say there’s no way they can enforce this law,” he said. “I’m not in the habit of supporting a piece of legislation just to try to make a point.”

The Governors Highway Safety Administration’s report, “Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do,” advocates texting bans for drivers but notes the difficulty of enforcing those laws. The GHSA also advises that not enforcing existing statutes sends a message that the law is unimportant.

But enforcement – as one experiment showed – may mean more than simply initiating a traffic stop.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a test in two states with laws against driving while using hand-held cellphones to determine whether high-visibility enforcement initiatives would result in increased compliance with state laws. High-visibility enforcement combines dedicated law enforcement during a specific period and a media campaign that supports the enforcement-based message. The most well-known campaign is “Click It or Ticket,” which used a multi-pronged approach to encourage seat belt law compliance.

In Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., the study looked at the effectiveness of enforcement waves at a time when television, radio and online ads promoted the enforcement message. It also explored different methods of spotting offenses.

mcmillin_jud-mug.jpg McMillin

In four “waves” of enforcement, the percentage of drivers observed holding their phones to their ears decreased through the end of the fourth enforcement wave. Compared to control cities, where no media campaign took place and police did not engage in a targeted cellphone-use enforcement campaign, the reductions in Hartford and Syracuse were significant, reflecting a 57-percent decline in observed cellphone use, compared to a 15-percent decline in the control cities.

The research also supported the conclusion that police were more successful in seeing violations when they used creative approaches. Hartford police favored a team approach, where a stationary officer would radio ahead to a partner anytime the first officer saw someone using a cellphone while driving, and the second officer would initiate the traffic stop. Syracuse preferred roving patrols in either unmarked cars or vehicles such as SUVs that offer a higher vantage point, enabling officers to see texting and hand-held violations more clearly.

Other approaches

Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, is an attorney and former prosecutor who voted against Koch’s legislation.

“I had three basic problems with it at the time. One is that the problem we’re trying to fix is already covered in the law,” he said.

During discussions about the bill last year, he argued that if a driver were eating, applying makeup, texting, or otherwise distracted and caused a crash resulting in injury or death, the criminal recklessness statute would apply.

“If I was a prosecutor, I wouldn’t have any problem taking the case to trial under a criminal recklessness statue if someone had hit somebody and hurt them or killed them,” he said.

Another reason he objected to the law is that it could have the unintended consequence of people driving more poorly as they attempt to conceal their texting from police.

In September 2010, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute reported that an analysis of collision loss claims in four states that had enacted texting bans showed no decline in crashes. Rather, claims appeared to increase slightly, and researchers theorized that could be because drivers in those states responded to the ban by placing their phones in their laps when texting in order to avoid detection. However, the researchers went on to say that the study had some weaknesses, because collision claims were not a perfect indicator of crashes in which distraction was a factor.

textingAngie Rinock, spokesperson for State Farm Insurance, said Indiana’s law is a good first step toward raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. State Farm also emphasizes the importance of graduated driver’s license requirements in reducing teen crashes.

Indiana enacted its GDL restrictions in 2009, which state that drivers younger than 18 may not use any telecommunication device while driving, except to make emergency 911 calls. Washington, D.C., and 31 other states have imposed regulations that prohibit younger drivers from using cellphones while driving.

Sending a message

On June 6, a Massachusetts judge sentenced 18-year-old Aaron Deveau to prison for a fatal crash he caused when he was 17. Prosecutors said Deveau had been texting before he crossed a center line and collided with another vehicle, killing the occupant. The judge reportedly wanted to make an example out of Deveau in issuing the sentence of 2 1/2 years, with all but one year suspended. But penalties are not a deterrent for all people, as shown by the ongoing incidences of fatal crashes caused by drunk driving.

The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute reports that last year, the state had 1,027 crashes where cellphone use was listed as a contributing factor. Of those, five were fatal crashes, and seven fatalities occurred.

McMillin said he thinks Indiana’s law will not stop people from texting and driving, because the root cause of that problem is simply poor judgment. He thinks that the time spent hearing testimony and gathering the input and research necessary to craft a new law would be better devoted to educating people about making smarter decisions.

“We seem to overestimate what we have the ability to do in the Legislature a lot,” he said.

A study by the NHSTA in New York and Connecticut found most drivers reported a willingness to text or use their phones while driving and at the same time believed it was important for police to enforce laws preventing such practices. Those conflicting viewpoints highlight the difficulty of getting people to understand the risks associated with their own behaviors.•

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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