A three-year-old law barring Indiana drivers from texting while driving has generated more frustration than tickets from police officers, who say the law makes it hard to prove a driver is in violation.
The 2011 law was a follow-up to a 2010 measure banning people under the age of 18 from using cellphones while driving. The texting law prohibits drivers from using a phone or electronic device to send or read a text message or email while operating a moving vehicle.
But law enforcement officials say it’s difficult to enforce because the law doesn’t prevent drivers from using cellphones to make calls, type in phone numbers or access other applications. It also doesn’t allow officers to confiscate a phone to confirm if the driver was texting or sending an email.
“It is an extremely tough law to enforce,” said Maj. Todd Noblitt of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, which he said has issued few, if any, texting-and-driving tickets. “There is absolutely no way a police officer can know what they (drivers) are doing.”
Indiana State Police Sgt. Noel Houze estimated that fewer than 400 motorists were ticketed for illegal texting in the first two years of the law, even though state police in 2010 linked more than 1,000 car crashes to cellphone use. Four of those crashes involved fatalities.
Lt. Matt Myers of the Columbus Police Department told The Republic his department has issued only one or two texting tickets since 2011.
The numbers don’t daunt Kila Seaver. The 9-year-old Columbus girl has started a petition asking motorists not to text while driving.
She said she decided to launch the effort to promote awareness of the dangerous practice after a friend’s sister died in a car accident while a driver was using a cellphone.
Angela Seaver said her daughter’s initiative, which includes a plea to “Keep me alive, don’t text and drive,” has increased her own awareness of distracted driving.
“(Before this) I was one of those who would be preoccupied on my phone,” she said. “I didn’t realize the impact that me picking up the phone while driving had on her, and it’s really changed me and her dad. Neither of us have touched our phones in the car since then.”
State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, said he is considering introducing a bill during the upcoming legislative session to clarify the law and make it easier to enforce.
“I want to do anything I can to decrease the number of accidents caused by distracted driving,” he said.
But state Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, doesn’t think more laws will help. Walker voted against the texting-and-driving law during the 2011 legislative session, saying Indiana already had laws to prevent distracted driving.
He said the state should focus more on increasing education about the risks of texting and driving.
“People don’t just stop behavior because it’s illegal. They just find new ways to avoid detection.”
Violations of the law carry penalties of up to $500.