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Some Indiana lawmakers unaware of cellphone ban amendment

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) – Young people in Indiana weren’t the only ones caught off guard by an amendment to a state law that banned the use of cellphones for all drivers under age 21.

Some state lawmakers said they didn’t know the item was in a bill either. At least four legislators who voted for the bill regarding supervision of probationary drivers said they weren’t aware that it would affect cellphone use, The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette reported.

State Rep. Dan Leonard of Huntington said he would’ve been hesitant to vote for the bill if he had been aware of the provision.

“I learned it on the news, but I didn’t remember that happening,” he said. “There seems to be more and more times where people are not being forthright with what’s in their bills.”

But state Rep. Ben Smaltz of Auburn, who was on the House committee that heard the bill and supported it during the session, said he was fully aware of how the bill would change the rules on cellphone use for young drivers.

“Anyone who didn’t know that was the intent of the bill didn’t read it,” Smaltz said. “The effort is to reduce the distraction for new or novice drivers.”

Before July 1, the state law only applied to teen drivers under 18. The amendment’s intention was to create stricter rules for the increasing number of new drivers who are waiting until they turn 18 to get their licenses, allowing them to bypass the state’s graduated driving license law, which limits passengers in the car, nighttime driving and cellphone use.

“It’s sweeping,” Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles spokesman Josh Gillespie said of the bill. “No one is grandfathered. The telecommunications portion is a big shocker.”

The bureau didn’t push for the change, he added.

Supporters of the bill, including Smaltz, believe crash data shows an amendment to the state law was necessary.

The fatality rate for drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 is rising, while the rate has dropped for those younger than 18, according to Sherry Deane of AAA Hoosier Motor Club. The state’s graduated provisions for young drivers are largely credited with causing the fatality rate for drivers under 18 to fall.