INDIANAPOLIS — Every day, Marissa Osowski has a 30-minute commute to work. On her drive home, she used to fill that half hour talking on her cell phone to her friends or boyfriend. That made the commute feel a little shorter and less boring.
Now, the 18-year-old’s daily phone call is against the law.
Under a change that took effect July 1, drivers who are 18, 19 and 20 years old can no longer use a cell phone – not even hands free – while driving. Previously, the restriction had only applied to teens younger than 18.
Osowski – who lives in Patriot in Southern Indiana – got her license when she was 16 and has been driving for two years.
“I’m a good driver,” she said. “So I don’t think using my phone or not using my phone affects my driving habits.”
She said it’s not fair that lawmakers raised the age limit on cell phone usage.
“It’s bad enough that 18 year olds are allowed to do anything but drink,” Osowski said. “If you can sign up for the army, you should be allowed to talk on your phone while driving.”
Sabrina Schuler, 20, however, doesn’t think the new law will affect her.
“I feel like people shouldn’t really be using their phones,” Shuler said. “They should be paying attention to the road.”
The law also expands restrictions for passengers riding with any driver under 21.
Here are the changes:
- Cell Phones/Texting: Up to age 21, drivers cannot use any type of telecommunication device (including hands-free) for any purpose while operating a vehicle, except for making emergency 911 calls.
- Up to age 21, drivers can’t be on the road between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. for the first 180 days after being licensed.
- After the first 180 days, those drivers can do no driving Sunday through Thursday from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. the following morning. For Saturday and Sunday mornings, no driving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
- Exemptions for above: Lawful employment, school-sanctioned activity, religious event or if accompanied by a licensed driver 25 years or older or a spouse with valid driving privileges who is at least 21 years old.
- Up to age 21, no passengers for the first 180 days unless accompanied by a licensed instructor, licensed driver 25 years or older or a spouse with valid driving privileges whom is at least 21 years old.
- Exemptions: Sibling, step-sibling, child, step-child or spouse of the driver
The bill’s author, Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said the update is a decision driven by data about teens and accidents.
“When I was young, you could get a learner’s permit if you were in driver’s ed at 15-1/2,” Soliday said. Then the law change to require Hoosiers to be 16 to obtain a permit “and we saw a significant drop in fatalities among young people in that age group.”
However, that also led to fewer teens participating in driver’s education classes, Soliday said. He attributes it, in part, to urbanization.
“With the demographic shift in young people waiting to get their license, a young person could go get their license and have no consolidation of skills period and we watch the fatality rate climbing in the 18-21 year old bracket,” Soliday said. “So what we did was in that bill, we required 18-21 year olds to have that six-month period of consolidation of skills.”
The real point of the law, however, is focused on experience with supervision before going out alone and driving.
“It’s in that time when you actually drive a vehicle and experience different driving conditions and so forth without other distractions,” Soliday said.
Soliday added that the new version of the law actually means teens can hit the road even sooner if they take an education course.
“So the first part of the bill is there to give some incentive to high school kids to take driver’s ed,” he said. “If you take driver’s education you can actually get your probationary license at 16 and 90 days.”
If teens opt not to take driver’s education, they will have to wait until they are 16 years, nine months old. That’s a difference of about six months.
“The move has been to try to increase the amount of education they’re getting before actually getting behind the wheel and on their own,” said Bob Hendrickson, approved driving school network leader at AAA.
“I think that’s beneficial because I know I took a class and it helped me,” Schuler said about the incentive.
Schuler said she doesn’t call or text anyone when driving, but she has used her phone’s GPS for directions. She still said the law would be beneficial, even if she could no longer use the mapping functions.
“It’s probably for the better but I probably already know some people that are going to risk it,” Schuler said.
Under the new law, drivers under 21 who have already received their licenses will not be grandfathered in. Osowski said that’s just irritating. “They should just make it that you can’t use your phone for a year or two years after getting your license.”
Amanda Creech is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.