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Park the phone: Motorists urged to avoid distractions while driving

Distracted driving has become a leading cause of vehicle crashes on the road. According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 38,824 people were killed on U.S. roads in 2020. Of those, approximately 8 percent (3,142) were caused by a distracted driver.

With traffic fatalities on the rise in Indiana and April being Distracted Driving Awareness Month, state and local officials are urging motorists to put down the phone and drive distraction-free to prevent crashes and save lives.

“Distracted drivers are not only a risk to themselves, but they’re a danger to everyone on the road,” said Gov. Eric J. Holcomb. “Driving requires your full attention and should be your one and only focus behind the wheel. We can reduce so many senseless and preventable tragedies by simply putting down the phone while driving.”

Distracted driving is considered any activity that diverts attention away from safely operating a vehicle. It can be visual, manual or cognitive and includes everything from eating to listening to loud music to more recent trends like “vlogging” or video blogging.

While all forms are considered dangerous, texting continues to be the most prevalent, especially among millennials and Gen Z. Research from NHTSA shows that young drivers, ages 16 to 24, have been observed using handheld electronic devices while driving at higher rates than older drivers since 2007.

“There’s a time and a place for everything, and when you’re driving isn’t the right time to be recording a video or taking a selfie,” said Devon McDonald, Indiana Criminal Justice Institute Executive Director. “If your eyes are off the road, you’re putting yourself and others at risk. It’s like driving blindfolded.”

Indiana took aim at distracted driving in 2020 when it passed the hands-free device driving law, which prohibits the use of holding a mobile device while driving. Since then, law enforcement agencies have been working overtime to educate motorists about the law, issuing more than 6,000 hands-free citations and almost twice as many warnings last year alone.

To expand awareness, police agencies in Indiana will once again be joining thousands across the nation for a one-day enforcement campaign to combat texting and other forms of distracted driving. On April 7, motorists can expect to see increased roving and high-visibility patrols with officers on high alert for hands-free violations.

The Connect 2 Disconnect campaign is funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with grants administered by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. Violators of the hands-free law could face a Class C infraction with fines up to $500 and have points added to their license.

“Distracted driving in any form creates potential hazards for you and for those sharing the road with you,” said Doug Carter, Indiana State Police Superintendent. “Holding your cell phone while driving is both dangerous and a violation of Indiana law. Our enforcement efforts seek to gain voluntary compliance of our laws, while providing a necessary education component. We have said it many times and will continue to say that it’s not about writing tickets, it’s about saving lives.”

For more information on distracted driving, visit www.distraction.gov, or for more information about Indiana’s hands-free device driving law, visit www.HandsFreeIndiana.com.

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