Indiana House panel endorses ban on drivers using handheld phones

A push to combat distracted driving with a ban on the use of handheld cellphones has cleared its first hurdle toward becoming the law in Indiana.

An Indiana House committee voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of the bill making cellphone use by all motorists illegal unless they are using hands-free or voice-operated technology, except in emergencies. The proposal would toughen the state’s current ban on texting while driving that officials have said has proven to be unenforceable and doesn’t include actions such as emailing or viewing videos.

Committee members heard emotional testimony from several people who had been injured or had family members killed in crashes caused by distracted drivers. They urged legislators to approve the ban, with some comparing the danger of cellphone use to drunken driving.

State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said distracted driving was to blame in at least 860 injury crashes and 48 crashes with deaths across Indiana last year.

Gov. Eric Holcomb is supporting the ban, but some Republican legislators have questioned whether such regulation is proper for government and how police officers could determine how a cellphone was being used.

The full House could vote on the proposal in the coming week.

The measure, House Bill 1070, cleared the House Roads and Transportation Committee.

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