INDIANAPOLIS – Some encouraging new data from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute shows collisions on Indiana roadways involving distracted drivers dropped to a 10-year low last year, the same year that Indiana’s new hands-free driving law took effect.
The ICJI says there were 8,761 crashes involving a distracted driver in 2020, down from 10,132 in 2019. However, like most things from 2020, the data has a proverbial asterisk next to it.
“I think folks are paying a little bit more attention to it, but I think we also can’t downplay the impact the pandemic has had,” said ICJI Executive Director, Devon McDonald.
Indiana’s hands-free driving law took effect July 1, 2020. Between that time and the end of the year, police agencies across the state have issued 1,899 citations and 5,088 warnings for violations.
In the last seven months, State Police Sgt. John Perrine says he and his fellow Troopers have noticed fewer people driving with phones in hand.
“Personally, when I’m out on patrol, I don’t see as many as I expected to,” Perrine said. “And maybe as many as I saw prior to July 1st of last year.”
However, public safety officials are unable to say how much an effect the hands-free law had on the crash numbers.
McDonald points out that stay-home orders drastically reduced traffic levels in the first months of the Coronavirus pandemic. Those lower traffic levels could easily be a contributing factor in the accident statistics.
“It’d be difficult to say right now, truly, the law in and of itself is the reason for the decrease, considering traffic patterns have been changed so drastically with the pandemic,” McDonald said. “But I do think it is positive that the numbers are down and that we’re also seeing some enforcement along with some education out there.”
McDonald believes 2021 will give a more accurate picture of the law’s effect as more Hoosiers get used to the idea of driving hands-free.
“I think that the coming year will probably be a little bit more telling from a data perspective, really the impact of the hands-free law, the enforcement, the education,” he said.
“It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds,” Perrine said. “But again, we’re very optimistic that this law worked and that the roads are safer because people are driving less distracted.”