Officials say patrol blitz shows distracted driving still a problem in Indiana

Crime in Indianapolis

A driver uses a phone while behind the wheel of a car (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — The results of a recent high-intensity patrol blitz show there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to reducing distracted driving among Hoosiers, according to public safety officials.

“We have to have a shift in culture to view distracted driving as dangerous and socially unacceptable,” said Indiana Criminal Justice Institute Executive Director Devon McDonald.

On April 8, more than 60 local police agencies across the state participated in “Connect 2 Disconnect,” a one-day law enforcement effort aimed at spotting people driving while holding their phones. 

Over the course of the day, police stopped 1,052 drivers, gave 455 written warnings and wrote 596 tickets for violating Indiana’s hands-free driving law. That’s nearly a third of the total number of statewide tickets issued in the first six months after the hands-free law took effect in July of 2020.

“That’s a lot. That’s a lot of touches with the public,” McDonald said. “A reminder of reality that distracted driving still is a problem.”

The results of the patrols come after Indiana saw distracted driving related crashes fall to a 10-year low in 2020. While the low crash numbers were a welcome sight, public safety officials believe they were skewed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know for sure that crashes were down because traffic volume was down,” said Indiana State Police Sergeant John Perrine. “Anybody who drove on the roads in the summer of 2020 will remember that there weren’t traffic jams because people just weren’t out.”

McDonald believes the results of the Connect 2 Disconnect patrols give a more accurate snapshot of Hoosier driving habits because police are specifically looking for people driving with their phones in hand.

“I think it is a reminder that traffic is increasing as more and more folks get vaccinated. They go back to work, more of us are in the office now,” McDonald said.

While Indiana State Police were not part of the April 8 high-intensity patrol effort, the agency is part of daily efforts to enforce the hands-free law. From July 1 of 2020 to March 29 of 2021, state police wrote 366 tickets and issued 2,194 warnings.

Perrine says police gave Hoosiers a several month “grace period” to get used to the law by giving more warnings than tickets. However, he says that educational period is over.

“We’re past that now,” Perrine said. “Now people know the law, it exists, and you will see an increase in citations being issued by police officers across the state.”

Perrine says those who ignore the law are being selfish.

“If you value your safety, if you value the safety of those around you, put your phone down and focus on driving,” he said.

McDonald says more education and enforcement campaigns are being planned. He believes it could take a couple years for hands-free driving to become the accepted norm as people change their habits. He compares the situation to when Hoosiers had to get used to seatbelt laws and adjust habits accordingly.

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