Indiana is the 22nd state, including Illinois, to prohibit drivers from holding or using a handheld mobile device while operating a moving vehicle.
The new restriction takes effect July 1 after Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed House Enrolled Act 1070 into law Wednesday night.
Under the law, drivers still are free to use their phones if the device is mounted on a dashboard, or otherwise operated in hands-free mode. Motorists also can hold and use a mobile device while their vehicle is stopped.
But a driver with a phone in his or her hand while their vehicle is moving — regardless of whether the device is being used — can be fined up to $500, and potentially lose their driver's license for repeat violations, according to the statute.
At the same time, the sponsor of the new law, state Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville, said she hopes police take a year or so to educate drivers about the new mobile device restriction using written warnings, before officers begin issuing tickets for violations.
It technically already is illegal in Indiana, under a 2011 statute, for drivers to type, transmit, or read email or text messages while their vehicle is in motion. Holding a phone to talk is not banned.
In 2016, though, a federal appellate court essentially neutered that law, since the court said police almost never can tell whether a driver is illegally texting, or using a phone to check the weather, look at a photo or use an app — none of which currently is prohibited.
The only exception to the hands-free requirement in the new law is when a driver is using his or her phone to call 911 to report a genuine emergency.
Holcomb led the charge for the handheld device ban by calling on the Republican-controlled General Assembly to send it to his desk, initially in November, and again during the governor's State of the State address in January.
"Distracted driving increases the risk of a crash by more than 3½ times and is a leading killer of teenagers in America. This is unacceptable and avoidable," Holcomb said.
State Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, a co-sponsor, was grateful for the governor's support after failing to gain traction for his distracted driving measures in prior years.
"I think everyone can agree that distracted driving is dangerous," Pressel said. "However, many still use their phones behind the wheel."
"A hands-free law serves as an important deterrent to people to put down the phone and keep their eyes on the road where they belong."
The legislation ultimately was approved 81-11 in the House and 49-1 by the Senate.
Every Northwest Indiana lawmaker supported the proposal.
Meet the 2020 Northwest Indiana legislative delegation
State Rep. Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond
State Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago
State Rep. Ragen Hatcher, D-Gary
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso
State Rep. Pat Boy, D-Michigan City
State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage
State Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron
State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster
State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary
State Rep. Chris Chyung, D-Dyer
State Rep. Douglas Gutwein, R-Francesville
State Rep. Lisa Beck, D-Hebron
State Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie
State Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond
State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago
State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes
State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso
State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell
State Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores
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