Indiana Texting Laws

Indiana Distracted Driving Laws

  1. Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).
  2. Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).

Indiana’s Texting While Driving Stand

Current Indiana law prohibits texting while driving; however hands-free, or voice-activated, texting is allowed. Cell phone, text messaging device, and wireless telecommunications device usage while driving is prohibited for drivers who have not reached 18 years of age. The current legislation on texting was signed into law by Governor Mitch Daniels on May 11, 2011. The law receives primary enforcement so that law enforcement does not have to witness a different violation in order to stop the vehicle. The fine for texting while driving is set at $500.

Distracted Driver Legislation

Senate Bill 342 prohibits cell phone usage in work zones and provides that usage when workers are present results in a Class A misdemeanor. It excludes cell phone usage if it is hands-free or for making a 911 call. Senate Bill 342 is in committee at this time.

Senate Bill 196 prohibits a police officer from retrieving information from a telecommunications device for use as evidence for a trial relative to a violation concerning typing, transmitting, or reading a text message while operating a motor vehicle unless: (1) probable cause exists that a crime has been committed that included use of a telecommunications device; or (2) the information is retrieved through the authority of a valid search warrant. Senate Bill 196 is currently in committee.

2011 Distracted Driver Legislation

State Police linked cell phone use to more than 1,100 crashes in 2010, which resulted in four fatalities.

House Bill 1129 was introduced to prohibit typing, transmitting, or reading a text message or an electronic mail message while operating a moving motor vehicle. This violation was defined as a Class C infraction, with fines up to $500. The legislation limited police from confiscating the texting device(s). An amendment was added by the Senate to prohibit cell phone usage; this provision was later stripped in conference committee. State Senator Tom Wyss of Fort Wayne asserted, correctly, that the Senate’s addition of a handheld cell phone ban to House Bill 1129 would make the bill non-passable. Divita Thompson lost her 18-year-old son who crashed while texting. She implored the House panel to approve House Bill 1129 saying, “I can’t go fast enough and I can’t speak loud enough.” This occurred on January 20, 2011, as a part of her battle against distracted driving by teens. The bill was approved by the full House five days later. Thompson repeated her appeal to the Senate panel that approved the bill on March 1, 2011. The Governor signed the legislation on May 10, 2011, and it took effect on July 1, 2011. A spokesman for the State Police said there would be no grace period before enforcing the state texting and driving ban, stating that “drivers have had plenty of notice about the law.”

Senate Bill 18 outlawed text messaging while driving and restricted the use of cell phones to hands-free operation. This legislation died in the House. Sen. Travis Holdman of Markle filed this legislation, and previously submitted the graduated license law that prohibits anyone under 18 from using cell phones and texting devices. Indiana’s attorney general, AT&T Indiana’s president, along with Senator Holdman held a rally for this bill in December 2010. Senator Brent Steele, a key committee member of the Senate committee considering the legislation, said he would drop his opposition to a full Senate vote on the legislation. Steele had opposed the 2010 efforts to pass the distracted driving law, saying police would be unable to enforce its provisions. He acquiesced to the 2011 plan that would ban both text messaging and the use of handheld phones while driving, saying that the new legislation addresses his enforcement concerns and supported its debate during a full hearing; however, Steele still did not support the legislation.

House Bill 1158 for cases of vehicular “reckless homicide,” a Class C felony, allowed courts to consider whether the accused was using the handheld phone at the time of a crash. Representative David Yarde of Garrett filed the legislation. House Bill 1158 did not prohibit texting or the use of cell phones, however. Drivers who injured someone while using a cell phone could be subjected to up to three years in prison. In the case of a fatality, the penalty would be increased to up to eight years in prison. The legislation was heavily amended while in the Roads and Transportation Committee. Representative Yarde withdrew the legislation during the second reading in the House on March 28, 2011.

Indiana Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) rallied at the Statehouse in November 2010. They wanted to draw attention to distracted driving issues and to encourage legislators to take more vigorous action. The students were joined by AAA Hoosier Motor Club and State Farm Insurance to aid in increasing public awareness.

2010 Distracted Driver Legislation

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, enforcement of the teenage distracted driving law resulted in the writing of only three tickets during 2009.

House Bill 1279 banned text messaging for all drivers on Indiana roads and highways; the legislation exempted texting using a hands-free device. Fines were capped at $500. The legislation cleared the Committee on Public Policy on January 28, 2010, before being sent to the Senate where it died.

House Bill 1057 banned ban text messaging while driving in Indiana; however, it did not get out of the House.

House Bill 1060 prohibited text messaging and cell phone use by drivers over the age of 18, unless a hands-free device was used. HB 1060 died in the House.

Senate Bill 18 banned text messaging of any type by a driver on state roads and highways. It died in the Senate but was resubmitted during the 2011 session.

Senate Bill 111 classified most texting by a driver as a misdemeanor in Indiana. First offenders would be cited for a Class C misdemeanor, and unrelated offenses committed within five years would be classified as Class A misdemeanors. If bodily harm or death resulted, texting by a driver would be classified as a felony. The legislation also provided that text messaging could qualify as a habitual traffic violator determination; this would bring additional felony charges to bear.

2009 Distracted Driver Legislation

Senate Bill 16 prohibited telecommunications device usage by any driver less than 18 years of age. The legislation passed both the Senate and House, and was returned to the Senate on April 15, 2009, to consider House amendments. The changes were approved and the bill was signed into law by the Governor on May 7, 2009, taking effect on July 1, 2009.

Senate Bill 80 prohibited cell phone usage for drivers less than 18 unless a hands-free accessory was used. Senator Dennis Kruse of Auburn authored the bill. Earlier, Senator Kruse had ended up in a ditch after he lost control of his vehicle while using his cell phone.

House Bill 1242 prohibited drivers from using hand-held phones. Drivers with probationary licenses were further prohibited from using a cell phone even if it had a hands-free setup. Representative Vanessa Summers of Indianapolis, an impassioned advocate for cell phone bans, filed this bill and other phone-related bills repeatedly, but with no successful passage.

House Bill 1699 prohibited drivers under the age of 18 from using a hand-held phone; however, it died in the House.

The death of college student Brittany R. Phillips, 21, of Muncie ratcheted up the debate over driving and texting by teenagers. She died on March 21, 2009, and had both sent and received text messages in the minutes before her car ran into a tree.

Prior Distracted Driver Legislative Activity

In 2008, the city of South Bend issued a ban on the use of cell phones in all city school districts. The South Bend Tribune said the city should have banned cell phone usage while driving in school zones as well. It further called for a citywide ban at the least, and preferably a statewide ban.

Following the death of a sheriff’s deputy in a texting related accident in October 2008, Monroe County banned the sending of email and text messages while driving. The ordinance took effect on January 1, 2009.