ILNews

Indiana's texting ban difficult to enforce

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

ADVERTISEMENT