ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Hands-free law gets some teeth

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Terre Haute Tribune-Star

Motorists on Indiana roads and highways who choose to use handheld devices while driving can’t say they weren’t warned.

And no one should dispute the necessity of consequences for the blatant and unsafe practice of distracted driving.

Indiana’s hands-free driving law reached its point of maximum impact recently when penalties on violators began to include the addition of points to driver’s licenses. Those points are a big deal for drivers, because they can lead to suspended licenses, which means driving privileges are revoked for a period of time.

The legislature adopted the hands-free driving law in its 2020 session, and the law took effect later during summer months. The initial penalties for violators were somewhat muted, with warnings and citations, just to get motorists’ attention and raise awareness about the law and its purpose. The ability to have points assessed against a driver’s license was delayed for a year. But now, that grace period is over.

Points stay on a driver’s license for up to two years, and 20 points can result in a license suspension.

Indiana law enforcement agencies reported that they issued nearly 1,600 warnings and citations related to the hands-free driving law in its first year of existence. It’s clear from the report that traffic officers took the law seriously. So should motorists.

Driving is a risky undertaking in the best of circumstances. The massive growth in cellphone usage has made it even more dangerous because far too many motorists engage in the unsafe practice of using their phones while operating their vehicles. This type of distracted driving is the worst of all and has led to a disturbing increase in vehicle crashes, including fatalities.

Indiana lawmakers were wise to adopt a strict hands-free driving law, although the state should have done so much sooner. More than 20 other states already had such a law before Indiana joined them. The number of states now with a law banning cellphone use while driving is 24. The early-adopting states showed that efforts to curb distracted driving through such laws were successful and led to a decrease in crashes, injuries and fatalities.

The key to success is for the law to be enforced and penalties to be sufficient to deter the practice. The result of safer roadways clearly justifies the means.

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