‘Hands Free Law’ goes into effect today

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A new traffic law forbidding drivers from using cell phones behind the wheel will be instated in Indiana today.

The so-called “Hands Free Law,” passed as Indiana Code 9-21-8-59, says a person may not use a communication device to create, send or read a text message or email while driving.

However, cell phones are used for a variety of reasons on the road, including voice calls, GPS navigation and music.

These services can still be utilized, but must be done before putting the vehicle in motion or by use of voice activation, Crawfordsville Chief of Police Mike Norman said.

“To use GPS mapping is allowed by it has to be hands free,” he said. “You can have it going, and it’s the same with music playlists, but push start before you put it in drive. That’s what I’m telling my kids.”

Emergency calls will also be permitted, though proof may be required if pulled over for holding the phone to the ear.

“It’s all for safety sake,” Norman said. “I know it’s an inconvenience, and it will take a while for the community to adjust, but I’m really glad Indiana has moved in this direction.”

Drivers have been using cell phones behind the wheel since they first became available, and it will take time for drivers to come around to the idea, he said.

“We’re not going to come right out and be hard-nosed about it; we’re going to work with the community and let them get accustomed to it,” Norman said. “It’s just something we’re going to have to get used to.”

This “hands-free” law is just that — cell phone use is only permitted if motorists utilize car-sync, Bluetooth technology or the like so that both hands are free at all times.

The use of earpods or other headphones is not recommended, and can result in distracted driving, Norman said.

“I’ve always believed that those were not beneficial for safety reasons,” he said. “You still need to be able to hear sirens or car horns. Distracted driving is a big issue. In regards to crashes, that’s a very frequent cause or contributor.”

The purpose of the law, he added is to bring down the number of crashes and increase driver awareness.

“It’s going to be much safer for the community and for people driving,” he said. “People will be focusing more on the road and with increased traffic in our community it’s going to be a big safety factor. I’m looking forward to seeing where the numbers end up with that. It should bring the number of crashes down.”

As far as other items in the car are concerned, such as food or drinks, Norman said it is up to officer discretion to determine whether it was a cell phone.

“We’re not going to be actively looking,” he said. “We’ve all been driving so phone with phones in our hands, so we’re not going to come right out and go overboard with it. We’ll work with the community.”

The new law can be found, in its entirety, through the Indiana General Assembly website at www.iga.in.gov.

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