Distracted driving legislation approved by both chambers, heads to Holcomb

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Get ready to put your cell phones down in the car. Legislation that bans drivers from holding or using cellphones while operating a motor vehicle passed the Indiana House and Senate on Tuesday and heads to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is expected to sign it into law.

The issue was a top legislative priority for the governor. The House voted 81-11 to approve House Bill 1070 and the Senate voted 49-1.

The bill, authored by Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville, prohibits individuals from using a mobile device while driving unless using hands-free or voice-operated technology. Calling 911 is an exception to the prohibition, which is slated to go into effect July 1.

The legislation will replace the state’s existing ban on texting while driving, which law enforcement officials have said is almost impossible to enforce.

Supporters of the measure maintain it will be a step forward in getting drivers to pay more attention to the road. “We want people to put their devices down when they get in the car,” state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said.

The bill does not restrict a driver from using a phone that is mounted on the dashboard or placed somewhere else in the vehicle, so individuals will still be able to use phones for GPS services or to make calls through Bluetooth technology or on speaker phones.

Lawmakers say education will be key and included language in the bill to initially ease the penalty for drivers who are caught disobeying the law. Drivers who are pulled over and receive tickets for being on their phones will not be subject to any points against their license until July 1, 2021.

The legislation received more support than initially expected in the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly. Some GOP lawmakers had expressed concerns about infringing on individual freedoms.

Some critics of the bill contend drivers are distracted in many other ways, such as eating while driving.

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