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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. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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