The image has been as frequent as flags flapping in the breeze on the Fourth of July: A car cruises down the roadway, its driver clearly clutching or staring at a cellphone, occasionally glancing around to make sure the vehicle remains on course.

Fortunately, as of July 1, such dangerous and risky behavior is against the law in Indiana. A new law, passed by Hoosier legislators and signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb on March 18, makes it illegal for drivers of motor vehicles to use or hold a cellphone while operating a vehicle on streets, roads and highways throughout the state.

This new law is an important public safety measure that 21 states, including Illinois, had already adopted. It makes a bold statement that cellphone use while driving is a hazard that will no longer be tolerated.

Now that the Legislature and governor have done their parts to put this law in place, it will be up to motorists to abide by it and up to police agencies to enforce it aggressively.

The law states that a “person may not hold or use a telecommunications device in the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is in motion unless the device is used in conjunction with hands free or voice operated technology ...”

Indiana already had a ban on texting while driving, but the new law goes much further and should be easier to enforce. The only exceptions to it are making a call to 911 emergency services or when the vehicle is stopped. Drivers do have the option of using a device legally by mounting it on a vehicle’s dashboard or using it in hands-free mode.

Penalties for violations demonstrate that the law has teeth. A $500 fine, and possible loss of a driver’s license for repeat offenses, should be convincing to those who might opt to not take it seriously.

Putting such a law in place was wise public safety policy and long overdue. Distracted driving is a major hazard on roads and highways and cellphones have added to those dangers. The new law won’t eliminate the practice, but it can reduce it if drivers will comply and police agencies will enforce it.

It’s important to note that bans on cellphone use while driving have shown good results. States that have attacked the problem aggressively through strict laws have found that crashes associated with the risky driving behavior have been reduced. More importantly, fatalities have gone down.

Indiana has taken a key step to be part of the solution. Promoting awareness and enforcing the new law will be essential in ensuring that it serves its purpose.

Terre Haute Tribune-Star.

This editorial was originally published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star.

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