Police could ticket motorists for texting while driving under a bill that won the approval of an Indiana House committee Wednesday.
Reading or sending a text message or e-mail while behind the wheel would be a Class C infraction under House Bill 1129, which passed the House Roads and Transportation Committee on a 10-2 vote.
In Indiana a Class C infraction is considered a minor offense, such as a common traffic violation. It is not considered a crime, but a civil violation. The penalties are a fine of up to $500 and court costs.
Over the past five years, 30 states have adopted similar laws, with others in the works, according to Sherry Dean, the public affairs specialist for the AAA Hoosier Motor Club.
Dean said according a survey the group conducted in 2009, 94 percent of Hoosier drivers support a texting-while-driving ban.
"We now recognize this as being more dangerous than drunk driving," Dean said.
A recent survey from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, she said, found that 87 percent of people believe texting while driving is a serious threat and 31 percent of people admit to texting while driving.
Dr Lawrence Reed, the chief of trauma service at Methodist Hospital, is a first-hand witness to the dangers of texting while driving.
"We see the results of texting while driving on a regular basis," he said. "Sixteen percent of all automobile crashes are due to distracted driving."
Diveeta Thompson urged lawmakers to adopt the ban. Her son died 3 years ago in a car wreck while texting.
"My hopes and dreams turned into a nightmare on Oct. 17, 2008 when my son reached for his cell phone," Thompson said. "This does not have to happen."
Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, was one of two committee members to vote against the bill.
"All accidents are caused by poor judgment," Speedy said. "The best way to address common sense driving is by education."
The above is one of an ongoing series of daily reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.