If you’re driving through Indiana and your cellphone rings, picking it up is now a bad idea.

As of Wednesday, it is against the law to drive while holding a cellphone, to talk or do anything else, in the Hoosier State. Now, anyone driving with a cellphone in their hand, for almost any reason, can be fined $500 on the first offense.

Spencer County Sheriff Kellene Reinke said the new law is needed, given how many accidents are caused by people not paying attention while they are driving.

“A lot of accidents I’ve worked in the past involved distracted driving,” Reinke said.

On occasion, a person driving with a cellphone in hand has created dangers for sheriff’s deputies, Reinke said. “They’ll be passing officers ... and they’ll be on the phone while driving,” he said.

According to the Associated Press, Indiana is the 22nd state to ban holding a cellphone while driving. A driver who is caught violating the new law repeatedly could also be subject to losing their license.

Sgt. Todd Ringle, public information officer for the Indiana State Police’s Evansville District, said a motorist can hold a cellphone if calling 911. The law does not ban talking on the phone while driving, Ringle said, as long as the person is using Bluetooth or a handless device.

“You can still talk on your phone,” Ringle said. While handless phone conversations are allowed, “that doesn’t mean it’s safe to do so,” he said.

Sgt. David Henderson, public information officer for ISP’s Jasper District, said officials estimate the new law could save up to 130 lives this year. Ringle, who cited the same statistic, said that number is based on reductions in fatal accidents seen in other states with the law.

A distracted driver is 400% more likely to be involved in an accident, Henderson said.

Troopers making stops will educate drivers about the new law when they can but will also issue tickets if warranted, Ringle said. The new law was needed partly because Indiana’s law against texting while driving was not effective.

“It was extremely hard to enforce and, because of that, too many people continued to text and drive,” Ringle said. “There were too many things you could still do on your phone.”

Now “if we see you holding your phone, we can cite you,” Ringle said. In vehicle accidents, “the number one distraction is that cellphone,” he said.

Reinke said sheriff’s deputies in Spencer County were educated on the new law.

“I think it’s time,” Reinke said of the law. “I think there are too many distractions already. We don’t need to have a phone on top of it.”

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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