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Enforcement lax on teen-driver mobile-phone ban

August 2, 2010

Indiana police have issued very few tickets to drivers age 17 and younger for using cell phones while driving since a ban on the practice took effect last summer.

Indiana State Police report ticketing only one driver for violating the cell phone ban, and a state agency that tracks infractions for 160 police departments could find just two other citations under the law that took effect in July 2009.

"There's really not a police agency that can dedicate someone just to looking for young-looking drivers," state police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten told The Courier-Journal of Louisville. "Maybe in a small police agency where everybody knows everybody, they'll see Mary Jo Thompson driving with a phone and know that she just got her license two months ago. But for other agencies, there are a lot of complexities, so it's just not a top-tier item."

Indiana legislators passed the teen cell phone ban last year as part of a larger graduated driver's license bill that also required teens to be older before receiving a license and added other restrictions to probationary licenses.

In order for police to issue a ticket — punishable by a fine up to $500 — officers have to see a driver who looks under age 18 using a mobile device. After a stop, the officer must then establish when the driver received his or her license — before or after the law took effect.

"It's not as easy to spot as say speeding or disregarding an automatic signal," Jeffersonville Police Detective Todd Hollis said. "Those can be spotted fairly easily and measured fairly easily."

The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, which uses federal grants to promote driving safety, aired a series of radio ads this spring to inform the public about the cell phone restriction.

"Heads up. Phones down," one ad said. "Put the brakes on distracted driving."

State Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, has sponsored bills to ban all drivers from using handheld devices.

"It needs to be an all-ages issue, not just about teens," Summers said. "Using a phone — not just texting — but using a phone without a handsfree piece is dangerous."

Tyler Ray, who will be a 16-year-old junior at Jeffersonville High School this fall, said many of his friends text while driving — even hiding their actions beneath the steering wheel.

"I know people get killed every day because of it," he said. "You can hurt other people on the road. You could run into a little kid. But I guess other teens think it's not going to happen to them."

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