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Indiana has joined more than 20 other states that have banned drivers from using handheld devices while operating a vehicle.

House Bill 1070 goes into effect Wednesday after being signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in March. The legislation means drivers will no longer be allowed to hold cell phones or other devices in their hands while a vehicle is in motion.

In 2011, a similar – though less restrictive law – that banned texting was passed by the Indiana General Assembly. But Sen. Ron Grooms, a sponsor of the new legislation, said it was too difficult to enforce.

“Police officers had no idea what you were texting or calling 911, or [listening to] a voicemail,” he said. “So, it became very difficult to try to enforce that. It was basically unenforceable and not really a very good law.”

Those difficulties with enforcement, along with high numbers of accidents involving distracted drivers, prompted lawmakers to revisit the issue. Grooms pointed to the fact that the state saw more than 1,200 accidents and at least three fatalities attributed to distracted driving involving cell phones in 2019.

The new law will be easier to enforce, as simply seeing a driver holding a phone could prompt a traffic stop, Indiana State Police Sgt. Carey Huls said. But it isn’t expected to amount to many citations, at least at first.

ISP will instead focus on informing drivers of the law and how to comply with it. Any citations issued in the first year will not result in points against a person’s license.

“Our goal over the next year is going to be education,” Huls said. “We expect a lot more warnings. If somebody has some egregious driving behavior that’s the result of holding the phone, that person should expect a citation. The fine for that is going to change from county to county.”

There are exceptions built into the law. Drivers are still permitted to make emergency calls. Dashboard mounts and Bluetooth can be used as alternatives to holding a device. Momentarily taking one’s hand off the steering wheel to answer a call will not be considered an infraction.

The Indiana Department of Labor’s website states that drivers who text are 23 times more likely to crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 23,000 deaths occurred due to distracted driving from 2012 to 2018. The organization has also reported that states with hands-free cell phone laws have seen positive results.

“They’ve had studies that show that their fatalities and their crashes have been reduced by quite a bit due to the fact that they had the hands-free legislation,” Huls said. “We’re expecting and hoping for the same results here in Indiana.”

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.