Sorry to start on such a negative note, but there are more than 200,000 car accidents every year in Indiana. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.
That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.
What Is Distracted Driving?
The state of Indiana defines distracted driving as “any non-driving activity a motorist engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving. Stressful jobs, busy lifestyles, and technology are just a few reasons why individuals may engage in distracted driving activities.”
Most distracted driving activities — like adjusting A/C, grooming, and chatting with your passengers — are perfectly legal, but that doesn't mean they're safe. Though this state’s laws focus primarily on banning texting and emailing while driving, it's always a good idea to avoid as many distractions as possible.
Distracted Driving Statistics in Indiana
You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Indiana:
Distracted driving causes about 10,000 car crashes a year in this state.
The most common time for distracted driving accidents in Indiana is on Mondays between noon and 6 p.m.
The estimated economic cost of traffic collisions in Indiana due to distraction is about $200 million.
This averages to about $20,000 per accident.
Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Indiana
Everyone knows that drinking and driving presents a danger on the roadways, but it may come as a surprise to learn that distracted driving accidents are more common in Indiana than drunk driving accidents. That's why many are calling DWD (“Driving while Distracted”) the new DWI.
Does Indiana Have Laws against Distracted Driving?
In 2011, Indiana became the 32nd state to outlaw texting while driving, but the distracted driving laws in this state are so weak that law enforcement rarely issues any tickets.
Indiana currently includes the following prohibitions:
Text messaging and emailing is illegal while driving.
Drivers under the age of 21 may not use cell phones, text messaging devices, or any other other wireless telecommunication devices, even if hands-free.
Commercial vehicle drivers may not use handheld mobile devices while the vehicle is in motion, and they may not begin or end a phone call unless they can do so by pressing a single button.
Though the state doesn't allow text messaging, it does allow drivers to engage in other smartphone functions like watching videos and browsing the Internet.
In 2019, State Representative Jim Pressel introduced House Bill 1340 which would make handheld cell phone use illegal and would strengthen the state’s existing laws. To date this has not been passed, but drivers in Indiana should be aware that it may.
Additionally, lawmakers in South Bend are currently working to make the use of handheld devices illegal within the city limits.
Are There Any Exceptions to Indiana's Distracted Driving Laws?
Indiana has some exceptions to its law:
It is legal to send and receive text messages if you are using hands-free technology.
Drivers under 21 may use a cell phone while driving only if they are calling 911 or another emergency service.
Indiana Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?
Is handheld device use permitted?
Any special restriction for young drivers?
Is headphone/headset use permitted?
Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in Indiana?
Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.
Distracted driving comes in many forms. From actions like texting or watching a video to the less obvious distractions of searching for your sunglasses or munching on fries, anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving presents a hazard.
So what happens if a police officer in Indiana spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that says you can't eat while driving in this state.
But eating a cheeseburger could cause you to drive erratically or to lose focus and commit a moving violation like running a stop sign, and you could be pulled over for that. And if that happens, you may get written up for distracted driving as well as for the moving violation you committed.
Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Whopper indoors or while sitting in the parking lot.
What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?
Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.
Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.
Indiana uses primary enforcement.
This means that if an officer sees you texting while driving, you can be pulled over and cited even if you've been in full control of your vehicle the entire time.
What's the Fine for Distracted Driving in Indiana?
The fines for distracted driving tickets in Indiana are as follows:
For a person who pleads guilty to the violation, the maximum fine is $35.50.
For those who contest the violation and lose, fines are as follows:
If it's the first violation within a five-year period, the maximum fine is $35.50
If it's the second violation within a five-year period, the maximum fine is $250.50
If it's the third or subsequent violation within a five-year period, the maximum fine is $500.
In addition to the fines listed above, a distracted driving violation adds four points to your driving record. But the state will remove these four points if you complete a driver safety program.
In some cases, a distracted driving violation in Indiana can also result in a reckless driving conviction. And in the case of a fatal accident, a distracted driver can be looking at a reckless homicide charge (vehicular manslaughter). Both of these types of charges are far more serious and can result in very large fines and jail time.
Indiana compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions
Lawmakers in most states have taken action to outlaw texting while driving, and as time goes on, most of the remaining states are expected to follow suit.
Does Distracted Driving in Indiana Increase Insurance Rates?
A distracted driving conviction will add four points to your driving record and, in most cases, will cause your insurance rates to go up. But because the state allows you to have those points removed if you complete a driver safety program, it's possible you may be able to skate through your first distracted driving citation without an increase in coverage rates.
What If I Drive into a State with Different Laws?
Distracted driving laws vary by state, and when you cross a state line, you are required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip!
Using a cell phone while driving is still legal in Indiana, but it's not fine in Illinois. Does this mean you're exempt from Illinois law if you cross the border? No, you're not.
Also, drivers between 18 and 20 are allowed to talk on cell phones in hands-free mode in all bordering states. Does this mean they can? Yes, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they should.
What's Indiana Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving?
In addition to working toward instituting tougher distracted driving laws, government entities in Indiana are dedicated to providing the public with education about the dangers of distracted driving.
The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI) offers an annual Distracted Driving Grant. Funds from this grant are to be used to promote innovative initiatives among law enforcement agencies to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities related to distracted driving in Indiana.
So What Can You Do?
Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting and the Candy Crush until you get home.