Indiana texting law takes a beating

A federal appeals court has cast a dubious eye on Indiana’s texting & driving law.

judge in courtRuling in the case of a suspected drug trafficker pulled over for texting, the court found that “the most plausible inference from seeing a driver fiddling with his cell phone is that he is not texting” — citing a list of other activities possible on smartphones.

In the decision dated Feb. 18, the court found: “No fact perceptible to a police officer glancing into a moving car and observing the driver using a cell phone would enable the officer to determine whether it was a permitted or a forbidden use.”

The opinion was written by Richard Posner, a well-known legal scholar who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. He called Indiana’s texting statute “largely inefficacious.”

Indiana bans texting while driving, but its law does not address cell phone use nor myriad other smart phone functions such as accessing of the Internet. The law dates back to the summer of 2011. A 2016 Senate bill (SB 79) seeks to address technological developments since the law was written.

The arresting officer said Gregorio Paniagua-Garcia was holding a cell phone in his right hand, with his head bent toward the phone, and he “appeared to be texting.” The government later conceded that he was not text messaging at the time of the stop. Paniagua-Garcia said he was using his cell phone to play music.

A district court judge had ruled that the officer reasonably believed the defendant had been texting before he searched the vehicle and found 5 pounds of heroin.

The appeals court responded: “The officer hadn’t seen any texting; what he had seen was consistent with any one of a number of lawful uses of cell phones.”

The Seventh Circuit ruling continued:

Indiana is right to be worried about the dangers created by persons who fiddle with their cell phones while driving, but probably wrong to outlaw such fiddling only with respect to texting — if only because the effect of slicing up drivers’ use of cell phones in this way has been to make the Indiana statute largely inefficacious, such is the difficulty of distinguishing texting from other uses of cellphones by drivers
by glancing into the driver’s side of a moving automobile.

The contrast with Illinois’ hands-free law was “striking,” the court found.

The appeals court found that the stop was illegal and that the defendant should not have been charged with possessing the heroin.

In Indiana, text messaging is prohibited for all drivers while vehicle is in motion. Fines are up to $500. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use cell phones, text messaging devices or other wireless telecommunications devices.

Read the 7th Circuit ruling.


  1. J.R. Watters says:

    Change the law so that merely holding a cell phone while driving is illegal. Additionally, make the use of a cell phone in any mode except hands free a violation similar to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I am sick of seeing these idiot people swerving on the road while using the cell phone. I was rear ended by a stupid woman while she was texting.

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