Overview of the laws restricting the use of smartphones and other distractions while operating a vehicle in the Hoosier State
John Binkowski was driving to his National Guard drill session in Gary, Indiana, when he stopped at a red light in Valparaiso. A moment later, everything went dark.
Several days later, John woke up in the hospital with broken bones and a traumatic brain injury. He soon learned that the driver of a semi-truck was texting when he rear-ended John at 65 mph.
Distracted driving takes at least 3,000 lives every year in the United States, and injures many, many more.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a distracted-driving accident in the Hoosier State, you probably have questions. Fortunately, we have answers.
What is distracted driving?
The term “distracted driving” refers to any non-driving activity that diverts attention from driving. The most common example is using a cell phone while driving, but there are many other types of distracted driving behavior:
- Eating or drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Adjusting the radio
- Watching videos
Distracting activities tend to fall into 1 of 3 categories:
- Cognitive distractions take your mind off the road (for example, talking on the telephone or talking to a passenger)
- Visual distractions take your eyes off the road (for example, watching videos or adjusting the radio)
- Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel (for example, grooming or eating)
Is distracted driving dangerous?
Distracted driving is extremely dangerous.
Nine people are killed and more than 1,000 people are injured every day in crashes involving a distracted driver according to the CDC.
Cell phone use is particularly dangerous because it activates all 3 types of distraction (cognitive, visual, and manual). Consider the following:
- Talking on a cell phone while driving is the cognitive equivalent of driving with a BAC of .08 (the legal limit in Indiana)
- Cell phone users are 5.36 times more likely to get into an accident
- Texting increases the risk of a crash by 23 times
- Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds, long enough to travel the length of a football field when driving 55 mph
In Indiana, more than 6,000 accidents were caused by distracted driving in 2018. What’s more, distracted-driving accidents are believed to be underreported due to the fact that Indiana crash report forms don’t include a field for texting while driving.
|Indiana distracted-driving accidents (2018)|
|Distraction||Fatal||Non-fatal injury||Property damage||Total|
|Cell phone use||0||96||365||461|
Does Indiana have distracted driving laws?
In 2020, Indiana became the 22nd state to pass a law prohibiting drivers from holding a smartphone or similar device while behind the wheel. Because the law only prohibits drivers from holding a smartphone or similar device, drivers are permitted to use a hands-free device.
Here’s Indiana’s distracted driving law in full:
Indiana Code 9-21-8-59 - use of a telecommunications device while operating a motor vehicle
(a) A person may not use a telecommunications device in the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is in motion unless the device is used in conjunction with hands-free or voice-operated technology, or unless the device is used to call 911 to report an emergency.
(b) A police officer may not, without the consent of the person:
(1) confiscate a telecommunications device for the purpose of determining compliance with this section;
(2) confiscate a telecommunications device and retain it as evidence pending trial for a violation of this section; or
(3) extract or otherwise download information from a telecommunications device for a violation of this section unless:
(A) the police officer has probable cause to believe that the telecommunications device has been used in the commission of a crime;
(B) the information is extracted or otherwise downloaded under a valid search warrant; or
(C) otherwise authorized by law.
Notably, Indiana’s distracted driving law is a “primary law,” which means an officer can pull you over for the offense even if you haven’t committed any other violation. A citation carries with it a fine of up to $500 and a possible license suspension.
How does distracted driving impact an injury claim in Indiana?
Car accidents lawsuits are generally based on negligence.
In Indiana, negligence is defined as the failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to someone else on the road. If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant was using a cell phone (or engaging in some other distracting activity) when the accident occurred, they can generally establish negligence.
What’s more, if the defendant received a citation for violating Indiana’s distracted driving statute, the defendant will be presumed negligent and the defendant will have the burden of proving that they didn’t cause the accident. This is referred to as “negligence per se.”
The bottom line:
If an accident is caused by a distracted driver (whether or not the distracting activity is prohibited by law), the distracted driver is most likely negligent and anyone injured in the accident will be able to recover damages from the driver.
What steps should you take following a distracted driving accident in Indiana?
If you’re hit by a distracted driver, there are a few steps you can take after the accident to improve your chances of recovering damages:
- Seek medical treatment. The first thing you should be thinking about after any car accident is your health. Call an ambulance if necessary. Even if you don’t think you were seriously injured, you should still see a doctor as soon as possible following a crash. Some injuries don’t show symptoms until days after the accident. What’s more, it’s important to establish a record in case you decide to file an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit later.
- Call the police. In most cases, the police will conduct a brief investigation and draft a police report. The information in this report (which often includes the officer’s opinion as to who was at fault, along with the contact information for the drivers and any witnesses) can help support your injury claim down the road.
- Collect witness contact information. Don’t rely on the police to identify and collect the contact information for all the witnesses at the scene. Do so yourself just in case witnesses decide to leave before the police officer has a chance to interview them.
- Preserve evidence. If you’re able to do so safely, take as many photographs as possible at the scene (be sure to include photographs of your injuries, the damage to the vehicles, and the surrounding area).
- Use caution before accepting a settlement offer. The driver’s insurance company might contact you immediately after the accident with a settlement offer. While quick cash settlements are nice, you need to be really careful about settling a case before you know the full extent of your injuries. Once you settle, you can’t ask for more money if you find out that your injuries are more severe than you originally thought.
- Contact an attorney. It’s generally a good idea to contact an attorney if you’re injured in an accident. An attorney can quickly assess your case and let you know what settlement offer would be reasonable. What’s more, most initial consultations are free.
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