Cops issue few citations in year since texting ban became law
By Maria Amante firstname.lastname@example.org/648-3072 June 29, 2012 10:16PM
| Sun-Times illustration
Updated: August 1, 2012 6:15AM
Cell phone use is still a widespread problem on Indiana roads despite the ban on texting while driving going into effect one year ago this Sunday.
Police say they have given few citations over the past year, due to difficulty in proving that a motorist was actually texting on the road.
Statewide, 125 texting citations have been issued by Indiana State Police. In Lake County, five citations have been issued, and in Porter County, there have been no texting citations.
“It’s indicative of the difficulty in that law in its conception, texting is very difficult to establish,” Porter County Sheriff David Lain said. “When it was understood texting maybe was becoming illegal, people became more surreptitious about the way they text.”
Lain said police may suspect a motorist is texting while on the road, but without seeing the person in the act and something “concrete,” like a traffic accident occurring, proving the case can be difficult. “You can’t witness it easily,” Lain said.
In order to make the citation, an officer would either need to subpoena phone records or have an admission from the driver. Resources are not available to pursue such measures, except in extraordinary accidents, such as those involving fatalities, he said.
The law prohibits drivers from using cell phones to type, transmit or read a text message or email. Police are not allowed to confiscate devices to determine compliance, and it is acceptable to use the device to make calls, obtain GPS coordinates or surf the Internet.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said he is especially concerned with whether or not the public is aware of the law in the first place.
“People texting on the phone (causes accidents),” he said. “We need to make the public aware of this law ... the dangers of texting and using a hands-free device while driving. There’s an increase in accidents, I know there (is).”
Buncich would recommend following what the city of Chicago has done, and banning cell phone use altogether behind the wheel.
And even though police have issued few citations for texting while driving, it can often be the cause behind a different citation, such as crossing over the center line, Lain said.
“An officer may have suspected and even observed (texting), but chose to go with the more serious violation,” he said.
Buncich said he is especially concerned with young motorists, who may be unaware of how serious the violation could ultimately be — ending with a fatality or serious injury.
Juanita Dinkins, of Merrillville, said she rarely picks up the phone while driving, even to take a call, and when she does, she uses a Bluetooth or hands-free device.
“I don’t text (when driving),” she said. “It’s unsafe and stupid.”
Vita, a Merrillville woman who declined to give her last name, said she never texted while in the car, even before the law.
It seems like common sense not to use the phone when driving, she said.
“You’re supposed to keep both eyes on the road, both hands on the wheel,” she said. “When I’m driving, I’m driving. I pull over when I get a call and I need to concentrate. ... But even though you give people tickets, they’re still going to do it. Just like anything else.”
Ultimately, distracted drivers are a result of selfish people, she said.
“People are just a lot more concerned with themselves than others,” Vita said. “They’re driving to get somewhere, not paying attention to the other cars. A lot of this is just a lack of respect.”
Conversely, every time she gets in the car she uses her phone and shoots out a text message, said Marina Eshak of Crown Point.
“But I try to be safe and only do it at stoplights,” Eshak said. “If something bad happened (I’d stop).”
She said she texts because she gets bored while driving and sometimes wants to talk to someone if alone in the car.