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Texting while driving illegal, tough to enforce

March 11, 2013

MARSHALL CO. — Texting while driving has been illegal in Indiana since 2011. But will police actually pull you over if they see you looking at your phone behind the wheel?
Plymouth Police Chief Dave Bacon said it’s possible — but the law is a tough one for his officers to enforce.
“The way the current law is written, it’s for text messaging and emailing (on a mobile device),” said Bacon. “Well, people could be looking at a map online. Will we stop them? Yes, we will stop them. But I don’t think the law is highly enforced the way it’s written now.”
Bacon added that he’s seen people driving on highways while reading books or newspapers.
“(Cell phones) are a distraction, but there are a lot of distractions,” said Bacon.
He added, “One good thing Indiana did do was banning the use of cell phones while driving for children under 18.”
Marshall County Sheriff Tom Chamberlin said that he doesn’t have specific records on how many county officers have pulled someone over for texting while driving.
“It’s up to the individual officers and also the circumstances, as to whether they would pull someone over,” said Chamberlin.
He added that if the driver has erratic behavior such as swerving all over the road, officers are more likely to stop them.
“We’ve received several calls about erratic driving on U.S. 31 and 30, and it seems like it could be a drunk driver — but there’s been several times that (that person) was texting,” said Chamberlin.
Those drivers who are pulled over are given a warning or possibly, a ticket.
Law enforcement can’t confiscate somebody’s phone to see if they were using it while driving. The only exception is in the case of a serious accident.
“We can’t confiscate anything without probable cause that it was used in a crime,” said Chamberlin. “When there is an accident, we will investigate to find out if someone was on their phone — especially if (the accident caused) a fatality or serious bodily injury.
In these situations, the phone or other device is confiscated and checked, and legal action is taken if the device was being used at the time of the accident.
“I think (texting while driving) is a problem, I do see it happening,” said Chamberlin. “Technology has come along to where you can read (messages) in your car…it comes down to (the individual’s) self-regulation.”
Bacon said that the law sometimes gives officers a reason to stop a car. He noted that a Plymouth officer wrote a ticket for somebody texting and driving in December, but that situation later turned into a driving with a suspended license charge.
He also said that in the case of an accident, car insurance companies may subpoena the driver’s cell phone records to see if the phone was being used at the time of the crash.
“It’s up to the individual driver as to whether they are going to follow the law or not,” said Bacon.

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