Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 20, 2013

Driving while texting enforcement not easy

Only a handful of citations have been issued

By Mike Fletcher Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Texting while driving? It can wait.

That’s the message the Kokomo Police Department is sending regarding motorists trying to send or read text messages while driving.

Two years ago Indiana legislators enacted a no-texting-while-driving law in hopes of deterring traffic accidents.

Since then, Kokomo police have issued five citations — three citations in 2012 and two so far this year.

“There’s no reason to be looking down in your lap when you’re driving, a position drivers typically assume when trying to hide texting from police,” KPD Capt. Brian Seldon said.

“We ask that drivers do not text and drive because it’s a distraction which can lead to a serious accident. If you have to send a text, we ask that you pull over to the side of the road or parking lot where it is safe and then text,” Seldon said. “I personally like the slogan: ‘Texting & Driving It can wait!’”

House Bill 1129 was introduced after Indiana State Police statistics revealed that cellphone use accounted for 1,100 crashes in 2010, four of which resulted fatalities.

“I don’t have the figures to know if it is deterring accidents, but I do know that’s one of the reasons why the law was passed because the rise in distracted driving was a contributing circumstance to serious accidents,” Seldon said.

Driver distraction legislation sounded good, but enforcing the law is another story, area police say.

“We would be lucky if we wrote one,” Sgt. Mike Tomson of the Indiana State Police, Peru Post, said of texting while driving citations issued out of the Peru Post.

“It’s hard to enforce unless you see them [texting],” he said.

While the law forbids drivers from typing, transmitting or reading texts and emails while their vehicles are in motion, the law also states that officers can’t confiscate phones or other mobile devices to determine whether a person was breaking the law, Tomson said.

That means police would have to subpoena phone records to issue a citation, they say, and the only time they’re likely to do that is in the event of a wreck.

A motorist can be stopped if the officer sees the driver looking at his phone, but it’s hard to prove what the driver was doing.

“The driver could say he was looking at a map,” said Tomson. “It’s hard to prove unless they admit to texting.”

House Bill 1129 was introduced to prohibit typing, transmitting, or reading a text message or an electronic mail message while operating a moving motor vehicle unless the device is used in conjunction with hands-free or voice-operated technology, or unless the device is used to call 911 to report a bona fide emergency.

Defined as a Class C infraction, a citation can result in fines up to $500.