Indiana lawmakers look at hands-free cellphone bill to end distracted driving

INDIANAPOLIS (WNDU) - A new bill introduced in January is pushing for Indiana to become a hands-free state. That means no cellphones or "electronic communications devices" in your hands while you're driving, according to the bill.

Right now, there is a law against texting and driving in place. If you're on a messaging app, you're doing something illegal.

"People take that word, 'texting,' literally," Stopdistractions.org CEO Jennifer Smith said. "And so, you'll see people saying, 'Oh, well, I wasn't texting.' But they're on Instagram the whole time they drive. Or they're FaceTiming each other. They're watching Netflix and YouTube, playing games."

And none of those things, currently, are illegal. That's why states are moving toward just getting the phones out of people's hands in general. If you're not touching your phone, you can't be distracted as easily, and it's easier to police.

"That, then, gives police a clear interpretation of the law so they can start enforcing it with consequences," Smith said. "Which, then, in turn, will change behavior and save lives, which we have proven in other states."

Georgia just passed a hands-free law last year where 900 citations were given out in the first month. After a few months of the law being in effect, citations are down astronomically.

"Drivers there were automatically typing and swiping 22 percent less," Smith said. "And that has continued to trend downwards. The state of Georgia also saw a 3.4 percent decrease in their fatalities after rising 34 percent since 2014. And their insurance crash claims in frequency and severity have also started to trend downward."

The consequences can be pretty heavy. Many have compared texting and driving to drinking and driving. Well, being caught with a cellphone would essentially have the same consequence as a Class C infraction, similar to a DUI.

And if it's severe enough and someone died as a result, you could be looking at somewhere between one and 12 years in jail, similar to manslaughter.

"And when you're driving a 4,000-pound deadly weapon, nothing on that phone is more important than the life of the people you're on the road with or your own life or your children in your car with you," Smith said.

Even though the bill is for a hands-free law, advocates say even using Bluetooth takes your attention away from the road. It's best to just turn the phone off or pull over to answer any urgent messages.