I saw an article in today’s Indianapolis Star regarding a 15-year-old young woman who was struck as a pedestrian by a 17-year-old motorist who lost control of his car while texting on his cell phone. While the young lady was not killed, unfortunately she did suffer numerous fractures that will likely cause her to have residual orthopaedic issues for the rest of her life.
While young people seem to be involved in most accidents involving texting while driving, it is common to see people of all ages looking down at their cell phones while driving. I even saw one fellow the other day steering his car with his knees while typing away at his cell phone! While everyone knows that texting and driving is unwise, many people may not know that it is also illegal and can result in substantial traffic fines.
In July of 2011 Indiana became one of thirty-nine states to implement a statewide ban on texting while driving. The law prohibits all drivers from using cell phones to type, transmit, and read text messages and emails except via hands free technology or unless used to call 911.
A violation of Indiana’s texting law constitutes a Class C infraction and is punishable by a fine of up to $500. However, the law prohibits police officers from confiscating a driver’s cell phone for investigative and evidentiary purposes. This renders the law nearly impossible to enforce unless a driver admits that he or she was texting, or a prosecuting attorney decides to subpoena a driver’s cell phone records. In all auto or trucking accident cases that my office handles, I routinely subpoena a driver’s cell phone records and compare these records with the the time that any 911 calls were made.
Despite these challenges for law enforcement, the Indiana State Police issued 125 citations and 114 warnings for texting violations in 2011. In the first half of 2012, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department issued 2 texting citations, the Carmel Police issued 10, and Noblesville Police 1 during this same period.
At least one Indiana lawmaker has suggested that Indiana’s criminal recklessness statute is sufficient to prosecute drivers cell phone use, whether or not covered by the state’s texting law, if it creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person. The offense of criminal recklessness is a Class A misdemeanor if the conduct includes the use of a motor vehicle, and a Class D felony if it inflicts serious bodily injury on another person.
In Massachusetts recently, an 18-year-old motorist was convicted of manslaughter while texting and causing a fatal traffic accident, and was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. No such prosecutions have been brought to my knowledge in Indiana yet, but are certainly a possibility.
Teen Drivers and Cell Phone Usage
In addition to Indiana’s texting while driving law, individuals under the age of 18 and licensed after June 30, 2009 are prohibited from any and all cell phone use until their eighteenth birthday. As with the state’s texting law, an exception is made if a phone is used for 911 emergency purposes. A violation of this statute is a Class C Infraction.
After the Massachusetts teenager that I mentioned earlier was convicted in a court of law, he issued the statement,“I made a mistake. If I could take it back, I would.” Unfortunately, some mistakes can’t be taken back, and victims of such accidents and their families have to live with the consequences of such preventable mistakes forever.
 Ind. Code § 9-21-8-59(a).
 Ind. Code § 9-21-8-49; Ind. Code § 34-28-5-4(c).
 Ind. Code § 9-21-8-59(b).
 Jenny Montgomery, Indiana’s Texting Ban Difficult to Enforce, Ind. Lawyer (June 20, 2012), http://www.theindianalawyer.com/indiana-s-texting-ban-difficult-to-enforce/PARAMS/article/29041.
 Erin Murphy, Police Struggle to Enforce Texting Law, WISHTV.com (June 7, 2012), http://www.wishtv.com/dpp/news/indiana/police-struggle-to-enforce-texting-law.
 Montgomery, supra note 4.
 Ind. Code § 35-42-2-2(b)(1).
 Ind. Code Ann. § 35-42-2-2(c)(1).
 Ind. Code Ann. § 35-42-2-2(d)(1).
 Ind. Code § 9-24-11-3.3; Ind. Code § 9-24-11-3.3(b)(4).
 Ind. Code § 9-24-11-8(a).