In the middle of 2020, with coronavirus raging and people’s minds on many things, a new Indiana law went into effect banning the use of cellphones and other electronic devices while driving a motor vehicle.

It wasn’t a bold or forward-looking piece of legislation. Rarely do any new laws in this state qualify as that. But it did make Indiana one of 22 states to have such a law on the books. So far, statistics complied by law enforcement agencies for 2020 pertaining to distracted driving crashes are encouraging.

That’s good news, and it provides strong indication that the mere presence of the law on the books — and a few well-timed traffic stops, warnings or citations — can make a difference when it comes to safety on roadways.

In the seven months since the law went into effect, police agencies have mostly issued warnings to motorists rather than writing tickets when they stop a driver with a phone or other electronic device in hand. And even that has not happened all that often. The key observation police agency officials are making is that distracted-driving incidents involving cellphones have decreased.

Traveling overall was down in 2020, of course, as people stayed home more often in order to decrease their chances of contracting COVID-19. But the decrease in distracted-driving incidents is not solely attributed to that.

“We have seen a sharp decrease in the number of drivers holding a phone while driving,” Sullivan County Sheriff Clark Cottom said.

The law tends to have this effect wherever it is instituted.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that states with hands-free driving laws have seen about a 20% decrease in traffic deaths in the two years after passing the law. Indiana’s crash statistics in the last six months of 2020 do show a drop in distracted-driving crashes.

The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute said collisions with distracted driving as a factor dropped from 10,132 in 2019 to a 10-year low of 8,761 in 2020.

Violating the law is a Class C infraction that can cost a driver up to $500 in fines. Beginning this summer, a violator can also receive points against their license.

Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

- Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

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