“Pull over or hang up the damn phone before you kill somebody.”
How many times have you said it, thought it or heard it, and yet the shortest trip behind the wheel would suggest few are listening. And they still may not be, but starting Wednesday, driving with a mobile device in your hand is going to cost you.
A law passed in this spring's short session of the Indiana legislature, and going into effect next month, makes holding a cellphone while driving a violation punishable by a $500 fine. Lawmakers added language that delays assessing points to violators' driver's licenses until next July.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says distracted driving was responsible for 2,841 deaths in 2018 alone – including 1,730 drivers, 605 passengers, 400 pedestrians and 77 bicyclists. Distracted driving, of course, includes any activity that diverts your attention from the road – texting, making or taking a call, eating and drinking, talking to others in your vehicle, changing the channel or volume on your car radio, etc.
But the administration says texting is especially dangerous as sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 mph, “that's like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.”
“Distracted driving increases the risk of a crash by more than 3 1/2 times and is a leading killer of teenagers in America,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said in support of the legislation. “This is unacceptable and avoidable.”
Hearings about the bill, which still permits use of cellphones if they are mounted on a dashboard or in hands-free mode, were often emotional as survivors of distracted-driving accidents joined medical professionals, police officers and others testifying at the Statehouse.
Jonathan Busarow, director of the Fort Wayne Children's Choir, is a fan of the new law. Last week, he and his family – wife Nicole, and boys Simon, 6, Matthias, 3, and Timothy, 1 – were on a bicycle trip to Bravas. Busarow said it was right around the dinner hour when they headed home and, because of their 3-year-old, they were riding on the sidewalk and had stopped to wait for a light to change.
They were only about a block from home, he said in a Facebook post, when Matthias got a little too close to the curb.
“We reminded him how he needed to stay away from the edge and wait for the signal to say 'Walk!' ” Matthias backed up and, when the light changed, they told him he should cross the street. That was immediately followed by screams to stop.
“A pickup truck flew into the intersection and ran the light,” Busarow said. “He realized what he did, slamming on his brakes. He was in the middle of the intersection before he was even close to stopping, so he decided to punch the gas and speed away. I saw him use that moment of slowing down to put his cell phone down.”
Others have not been so lucky. And in this case, we're talking about the Busarow family but also the driver of the pickup.
If $500 isn't enough to convince you to drive without your phone or any other mobile device in your hand, maybe the image of a 3-year-old on his “big boy” bike will do the trick.
“Everything was fine, no one was hurt,” Busarow said in a phone interview Tuesday. “But that's not to say it might not have ended as well as it did.”
“Please, put your phone away,” he pleaded in his Facebook post, titled “My son almost died today.”