ANDERSON — The roof of the upside-down Honda Civic resting at the end of a driveway on U.S. 36 was crushed and deployed airbags obscured the tiny spaces inside where a 91-year-old driver once sat.
The single-vehicle accident that occurred last March near Pendleton was one of distracted driving, according to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department. The driver, who suffered cuts on her left forearm and right hand, said she was trying to answer her cellphone before the crash.
The National Safety Council reports that 1.6 million crashes are caused each year from people using a cellphone while they drive. Nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving and one out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.
“Distracted driving has been a problem since the invention of the automobile, but cellphones have arguably contributed more to this issue than any other,” said Sheriff’s Department Lt. John Owen. “I see drivers, especially young drivers, using the phone to talk, text, listen, check news, get directions, check calendar, do business, take pictures and many other things.”
Owen said cellphones have “become infused with our daily lives” and are a growing problem.
“I rarely investigate a crash where the driver does not have a cellphone,” he said. “The driver – if not injured – is usually on the phone when I arrive and sometimes even when they are injured.”
Sheriff’s Patrol Capt. Rob Oleksy said the Madison County Crash Team routinely looks for evidence of distracted driving when investigating fatal and serious accidents.
“Distracted driving is a common issue and can become a deadly problem,” Oleksy said. “I believe that education of our youth, and better legislation is required to curb the problem.”
He said Indiana Code 9-21-8-59 prohibits typing a text or email, transmitting a text or email, and reading a text or email, but the scope of this legislation makes it almost impossible to prove.
“A person can be driving down the road playing a game, and it is legal,” Oleksy said. “I can observe someone driving while on their phone, but are they sending a text or email, or are they looking at a picture? We have probable cause to investigate, but it’s not illegal to look at a picture.”
Oleksy is in favor of laws like House Bill 1070 that was introduced last week to help curb distracted driving in Indiana. The bill would make it illegal for someone to hold or use a telecommunications device while they are in the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle while it is in motion unless it is used in conjunction with a hands-free or voice-operated technology or used to call 911 to report a “bona fide emergency.”
If passed, the bill would become law on July 1.
Some communities don’t want to wait for lawmakers to pass a new law and have taken steps to prevent distracted driving with ordinances in their communities. The city council in South Bend adopted a law banning electronic devices while driving, unless it is hands-free.
Owen said changing the law to require hands-free-only operations would help decrease distracted driving, and while it would make enforcement easier, it would not completely eliminate distractions.
“I would stress to people that they have a responsibility to focus on driving and nothing else,” said Owen. “Stay alive – just drive.”