Last year the Indiana legislature passed the no texting while driving law, which banned drivers from writing and reading texts or emails while driving. At the time the law was heralded by its proponents as sending a strong message to the public about the dangers of texting and driving.
With the adoption of the no texting and emailing law Indiana joined thirty nine other states in banning this practice while driving. However, even as the law was being debated and passed it already had its detractors. These detractors didn’t complain that the law shouldn’t exist, but instead said that while its intention was good, it was not drafted well to prevent all distracted driving caused by handheld devices, nor would it be easy to enforce.
The law, as ultimately passed, has been codified at Indiana Code 9-21-8-59 , and states as follows:
(a) A person may not use a telecommunication device to:
(1) type a text message or an electronic mail message;
(2) transmit a text message or an electronic mail message; or
(3) read a text message or an electronic mail message;
while operating a moving motor vehicle unless the device is used in conjunction with hands free or voice operated technology, or unless the device is used to call 911 to report a bona fide emergency.
(b) A police office may not confiscate a telecommunications device for the purpose of determining compliance with this section or confiscate a telecommunications device and retain it as evidence pending trial for a violation of this section.
The complaints that were made about the law, as written, included:
• Loopholes in prohibited conduct, including that while typing and reading of texts and emails were prohibited, talking on a cell phone, dialing numbers, and playing games and surfing the Internet on a smart phone were not.
• Detection by law enforcement would be difficult: How can a police officer know that the person is texting or emailing, versus looking at their phone’s GPS for example to have reasonable suspicion to pull them over?
• Enforcement by officers would be difficult: Once someone is stopped for texting and driving, how can an officer prove that is what they were doing? It really comes down to whether the person admits it or not, since they can say they were just doing something not prohibited and there is no way to rebut that claim since police are forbidden from confiscating the phone to see what had just been done on it.
The texting law went into effect here in the state in July 2011. That means we are coming up on the year anniversary of its effective date, so it’s a good time to check in with law enforcement officers to see how well the law is working, and how enforcement is going. Unfortunately, several newspapers and other news agencies throughout Indiana have reported that the concerns about the drafting of this law were valid. In fact, Indiana law enforcement officers have found the law is toothless because of the huge exceptions and loopholes, as well as finding it difficult to enforce.
Because of these problems it has been reported that there have been few texting tickets handed out across the state. For instance, the Indianapolis police department has handed out only seven such tickets since the law’s inception, while the Indiana State Police have only handed out 125 total, with an additional 114 warnings. Further, in the first half of 2012 Carmel officers issued 10 tickets, Noblesville one, and Fishers, zero.
Although the law may have made some Indiana citizens think twice about texting and driving, which is a good thing, it obviously isn’t effective enough from a deterrent standpoint for many who wantonly text and drive. This is a safety problem for the state of Indiana, and should be rectified with the legislature as soon as possible. Law enforcement officers are calling for a broader ban on handheld devices while driving to help make the roads of Indiana safer for everyone, and enforcement easier for them. Their advice is sound, and should be heeded.