Indiana State Police are trying a new approach to curbing aggressive driving and distracted driving on Indiana interstates. As part of an undercover enforcement effort, a trooper rode in the cab of a tractor-trailer on I-70 and I-465 West in Indianapolis for three hours in July spotting motorists who were violating traffic laws. The trooper relayed the information to other troopers who pulled over the unsafe drivers. The enforcement operation issued 43 tickets and 40 warnings to drivers.
The types of traffic violations identified included cars cutting off semi-trucks, lane changes without signals, drivers who were tailgating, and numerous speeders, some going more than 30 mph over the limit, according to IndyStar coverage of the special patrol’s trial run.
State Police Sgt. John Perrine said the patrol was an effort to crack down on aggressive or distracted drivers, as well as the frequency of cars cutting off semi-trucks.
“Our goal is to write people tickets and get people’s attention,” Perrine said. “This isn’t a secret that we’re doing this. It could very well end up becoming a more regular part of our plans.”
Truckers were among those ticketed. RTV6 in Indianapolis, which dubbed the operation “Trooper in a Truck,” was with Trooper Anthony Emery when he spotted a fuel tanker tailgating the truck in front of him.
“He was following about 40 feet, and they have a 300-foot following distance requirement,” Emery said. “We have a dangerous situation when we have a tanker carrying fuel. We have a potential for an explosion or a big fire.”
The tanker driver received a ticket for following too closely, a warning for speeding, and another warning for not properly logging one of his breaks as required by federal regulations.
According to Emery, the tanker truck driver admitted that he was distracted and wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around him.
Distracted Driving Dangers in Indiana
Distracted driving includes any non-driving activity a motorist engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving.
There are three primary types of distracted driving:
- Cognitive distraction takes your mind off the road.
- Visual distraction takes your eyes off the road.
- Manual distraction takes your hands off the wheel.
Texting while driving is one of the most common and most dangerous forms of distracted driving because it is a cognitive, visual and manual distraction. There are now more crashes related to texting and driving than drinking and driving, and people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to crash, the Indiana Department of Labor says.
Other driver distractions that can easily lead to crashes include:
- Eating or drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Applying makeup, brushing hair
- Using a navigation system (GPS)
- Watching videos
- Changing music on a radio or CD player
Indiana Law and Texting While Driving
It is currently illegal to read or send text messages while driving in Indiana. State law also prohibits drivers under the age of 21 from using handheld cellphones while behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, a federal appeals court said in a drug case that Indiana’s texting while driving law is essentially useless because police have no way of telling what drivers are doing with their phones. The court ruled in February 2016 that a traffic stop for texting was illegal because of how vague the law is, and implied that a total handheld ban would be more effective.
“Indiana is right to be worried about the dangers created by persons who fiddle with their cellphones while driving, but probably wrong to outlaw such fiddling only with respect to texting,” the court’s opinion says. The court said the effect of partially restricting drivers’ use of cellphones, but not banning the use of handheld phones while driving has been to make the Indiana statute largely ineffective.
The court pointed out that, in 2013, Indiana authorities issued only 186 citations for violations of the Indiana texting-while-driving law, while more than 6,700 citations were issued in Illinois for violations of the Illinois hands-free law.
A bill introduced in this year’s legislative session to make Indiana a hands-free state failed.
How to Curb Distracted Driving in Indiana
Indiana drivers don’t have to endanger themselves and everyone around them by driving while distracted. Everyone has a role to play, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says. Teens are the best messengers for other teens and should call friends out when they begin to engage in distractions behind the wheel. Parents, meanwhile, should model proper behavior for their teenagers.
- Take care of business before getting behind the wheel. Don’t drive if you need to eat, finish dressing, make a phone call. Adjust your seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before pulling onto the road.
- Put things away. Store your cellphone or other distractions out of reach when you’re driving. Secure children and pets before getting underway. If you need to deal with them, pull over and stop.
- Know where you’re going. Decide on your route and check traffic conditions before leaving your present location. Do this so you don’t need to check a mapping or traffic app or discuss plans with passengers while you drive.
- Demand respect. Don’t let your passengers divert your attention from the road. It’s not realistic to demand silence, but let your companions know when they are hindering your ability to focus on driving.
The Indiana Department of Transportation also suggests for general driving safety:
- Buckle Up! Make sure you and your passengers are properly restrained. This is the single most important thing you can do to protect your life and the lives of your loved ones if involved in a car accident.
- Never Drive Impaired. Avoid alcohol and drugs if driving. If alcohol is being served, assign a designated driver.
- Drive Defensively. Aggressive drivers take unnecessary risks and often cause crashes. Watch traffic around you, behind you and down the road ahead.
Share the Road. Look out for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and commercial trucks.