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Distracted driving rises despite Indiana’s 2020 Hands-Free Law

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Since the Hands-Free Law was passed in 2020, law enforcement across Indiana has been doing their part to keep distracted drivers off the road, issuing thousands of citations.

Indiana state Sen. Michael Crider, a Greenfield Republican who was the first sponsor of the Hands Free Law, said, “I have a friend who when he starts his car he throws his cellphone on the floorboard of the passenger compartment just so he can’t reach it because he said, ‘It’s just too tempting for me.’”

According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, over 14,000 citations have been issued since 2020 for drivers holding a phone.

Here are the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute statistics: 2020, 2,131 citations issued; 2021, 6,161 issued; 2022, 5,770 issued; 2023 so far, 657 issued. That’s a total of 14,737.

Crider said, “The numbers of tickets, for instance, (going) down, doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s less distracted driving.”

While the numbers show a decrease in citations from 2021 to 2022, data also shows the number of crashes, fatalities and distracted drivers increased in the same period.

Devon McDonald, executive director of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, said “People still drive around watching Netflix videos while they’re driving. The big reasons why crashes occur, generally speaking, are speeding. (But) distracted driving is definitely a high, high incident rate with crashes.”

Here are more statistics from Indiana Criminal Justice Institute: from July-December 2020, 400 crashes with 447 fatalities, and 28 distracted drivers.

In 2021, 863 crashes with 932 fatalities, and 68 distracted drivers.

For 2022, 887 crashes with 952 fatalities, and 85 distracted drivers.

McDonald said that his team is attempting “to gather some data to develop a good plan to help educate motorists on the dangers of distracted driving and how that combined with other dangerous behaviors such as speeding could really impact not only their lives but the lives of others.”

But ultimately, he says, it’s going to take a culture change.

“The big thing is going to be a culture shift in society. Just like it used to be OK to drink and drive (and) it used to be OK to not wear your seatbelt. It took years and years and years, decades even, to kind of shift that mindset for the general public. We’re very much out there with cellphone usage,” the justice institute leader said.