New state laws ban drivers holding phones, hike marriage age

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Using a handheld cellphone while driving will become illegal on Indiana roads under a new state law taking effect Wednesday.

The move aimed at combating distracted driving was among numerous laws going onto the books July 1 after being approved by the state Legislature this year. A complete list of new laws for 2020 is available here.

Among the other new are those fixing tougher penalties on stores for selling smoking or vaping products to anyone younger than 21 years, and a requirement that anyone younger than 18 obtain a judge’s permission before getting married.

Cellphone use banned while driving

Indiana is joining more than 20 other states in prohibiting drivers from holding or using a handheld mobile device while operating a moving vehicle.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb encouraged legislators to approve the ban, arguing that distracted driving increases the risk of a crash by more than 3½ times. It was to blame in at least 860 injury crashes and 48 crashes with deaths across Indiana last year, according to state police.

The new law allows cellphone use by drivers only with hands-free or voice-operated technology, except in emergencies. It broadens a previous state ban on texting while driving that officials found unenforceable and didn’t ban actions such as emailing or using Snapchat, Twitter and other apps.

Violators can be fined up to $500 and they could lose their driver’s license for repeat violations. But motorists who are ticketed before July 1, 2021, will not receive points on their license, which can lead to license suspension.

Smoking, vaping age increased

A new law doubles the fines stores can face for selling tobacco or vaping products to anyone younger than 21. The penalties, which were last increased a decade ago, will grow until a third violation within a year would carry a maximum $2,000 fine.

Supporters said the tougher penalties will help reduce Indiana’s high smoking rates by making it more difficult for youths to obtain tobacco-related items such as cigarettes or e-cigarette liquids.

The additional penalties were part of a bill increasing Indiana’s minimum age for smoking and vaping from 18 to 21 to conform with a new federal law. But the Republican-sponsored measure didn’t include any additional taxes on cigarettes or regulations on vaping liquids as sought by health advocates.

Indiana’s 21.8% smoking rate among adults was the 7th highest in the country for 2017, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Marriage age raised

Indiana’s new marriage-age law replaces the previous law allowing those as young as 15 to marry if they have parental consent. The new law only allows 16- or 17-year-olds to marry someone no more than four years older after obtaining approval from a juvenile court judge.

Legislators heard during a committee meeting from women who were 15 or 16 when their parents forced them to marry men who had raped or molested them and then faced more abuse before being able to escape the relationship.

Republican Rep. Karen Engleman of Georgetown, the law’s sponsor, cited concerns that girls who marry before 18 are at greater risk of becoming victims of sexual and domestic violence, along with higher poverty and high school dropout rates.

Gasoline tax hike

The state gasoline tax will go up by a penny to 31 cents per gallon on Wednesday. That is the maximum increase allowed under a 2017 law under which the tax was increased by 18 cents a gallon to 28 cents to help pay for road projects.

The tax has gone up automatically each year since then as an inflationary adjustment.

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