INDIANAPOLIS — April 7 marks the start of a nationwide initiative to crack down on distracted driving.

It is called the “Connect 2 Disconnect” initiative and several local police departments here in Central Indiana will be participating. The goal of the one-day initiative is to spread awareness, educate drivers, and reduce crashes. April is also Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

“There’s nothing more important than focusing on driving while you’re operating an automobile,” said Rob Duckworth, Director of Traffic Safety at the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. “It only takes a split second while distracted for something to change. People don’t realize how much they’re covering in ground and distance when they’re traveling down the roadway. And how quickly you travel the length of a football field.”

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a total of 38,824 people were killed in crashes nationwide in 2020. Roughly 8% of those, or 3,142, were caused by a distracted driver.

Duckworth said the average driver is distracted for up to seven seconds when they take their eyes off the road.

“That’s why you can’t even hold your phone while you’re driving. Hands Free means not touching your phone completely. And that’s what we need for people to be effective to help us reduce these crashes,” said Duckworth.

“Just that one time that you put your head down or you got your phone in front of you could take somebody’s life,” said IMPD public information officer, William Young.

IMPD is one of several local police departments participating in this year’s initiative. That means on Thursday, April 7th, drivers will notice and see more officers targeting distracted drivers specifically.

“On my way here to meet with you all, [I] pulled up next to a lady and she’s got her phone in her face and I can tell she’s texting and she looks over at me because she sees that patrol car she puts her phone down,” said Young. “However, we want you to never do that even if you don’t see a patrol car. I think that’s extremely important.”

In 2020, Indiana passed the hands-free driving law which makes it illegal to even be holding your phone while driving. According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, since then, police have issued more than 6,000 citations and almost twice as many warnings last year alone.

“And that’s only the items that we saw,” said Duckworth. “So when you magnify that towards the events that happen every day, it’s a significant issue on Indiana roadways.”