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DIGGING DEEPER: Policing Indiana’s Hands-Free Driving Law

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When Indiana lawmakers passed a hands-free driving bill earlier this year, they hoped it would help put an end to distracted driving.

It's become one of the biggest factors in crashes. ABC21 looked into the number of citations, both warnings and tickets that police have issued since the bill became a law and found that - Indiana has a long road ahead before the law has much effect.

Governor Eric Holcomb signed house bill 1070 back in June. The law, went into effect July 1, 2020.

State Senator Dennis Kruse co-sponsored the hands-free driving bill that passed this summer and said, "I think we needed to address it. The police have a power now to stop someone and give them a ticket."

How are police using that power? ABC21 got the numbers.

The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute reported that law enforcement statewide, issued 3,519 warnings and 889 tickets from July 1, 2020 to October 14. 2020. That's an average of fewer than 9 tickets a day - across all of Indiana.

"Let's not mistake: we are enforcing it. Obviously, we've got you know; a warning is still a traffic enforcement. I think those numbers might start to sway maybe the six seven eight-month mark," said Capt. Ron Galaviz with the Indiana State Police.

In the 11-counties in Indiana that are part of ABC21's viewing area state police issued 210 warnings and 23 tickets. The Fort Wayne police department doesn't track warnings, and issued 1 ticket.

An overwhelmingly large gap of ticket to warning ratio. ABC21 asked ISP officials the question, "Do you think that a warning is enough?" Capt. Galaviz said, "Sometimes it is. Sometimes it's just that very simple friendly reminder that the law is in effect."

State Sen. Kruz said, "Seems like a low amount."

The toll of distracted driving, is something Daveeta Kinchen;'s family lives with every day.

"It's still surreal. It doesn't seem like 12 years ago. It seems like just yesterday. It's unbelievable.," said Daveeta Kinchen who lost her son to distracted driving in 2008.

Rodney was driving down Dickie road when he looked down at his cell phone for a second, and in an instant he was gone. "He swerved and at the time the barrier wasn't there and so he hit gravel. Over-corrected, spun out, and wrapped his car around that pole," said Daveeta.

18-year-old Rodney Thompson an aspiring attorney, and star senior basketball player for homestead dead, his friend in the car escaping with only minor injuries.

"I can just remember the candles and the energy was so heavy," said Imani Miller, Rodney's little sister.

Imani was just 6 at the time, and says she remembers that day vividly. "Everyone was so shocked they couldn't believe it," she said.

Police are trying to educate people about the new law. "What we're trying to do is change the behavior associated with using your phone while driving with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of crashes, injuries and fatalities," said Capt. Galaviz.

Daveeta has a message to those who drive distracted, "It's just not worth it. The loss of a loved one, the ramifications that just don't go away the mental illness the distress. The grief. it's just not worth it," she said.

ABC21 reached out to the Fort Wayne Police Department to understand why they only issued one ticket. Public Information Officer Sergeant \Sofia Rosales- Scatena told us this:

"During a pandemic, like we are in currently, we have a priority of need. Our calls for service have increased during this time, and our first priority are those calls. Comparing citations from ISP to FWPD will always be disproportionate. ISP handle mainly traffic enforcement while our officers are tasked with numerous 911 calls that must be answered as well as traffic enforcement when they are able to do so."

Currently, if issued a ticket, it won't include points against your driver's license. However, as of July 1, 2021, one year after the law took effect, that will change.

Indiana State Police officials say their objective out the gate is information and education, saying they expected the higher number of warnings to start with. They add, after the beginning of the new year, they think the numbers will start to level out a little.

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Kaitlyn Kendall

Kaitlyn Kendall anchors ABC21 news at 5 and is the chief investigative reporter for the stations Digging Deeper team.

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