Potential laws affect students

With every new year, many issues are presented to students daily. Every new problem brings with it its own set of complexities. Right now in Indiana, there are currently two proposed pieces of legislation that could possibly affect college students. The first is a distracted driving bill and the second would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. 

During Gov. Eric Holcomb’s State of the State address on Jan. 14, he said that he planned to address distracted driving this year by supporting legislation that would prohibit drivers from using a hands-free device while driving. According to the Northwest Indiana Times, the only exception would be to call 911 to report an emergency.

Under a 2011 Indiana law, it is technically illegal to type, transmit or read email or text messages while a vehicle was in motion, according to the NWI Times. However, in 2016, a federal appeals court found that because the police cannot tell whether or not a driver is texting or using an app—which is technically not legal—the court essentially rendered the law ineffective, according to the NWI Times. Under the 2011 law, it is also not illegal to hold a phone to talk to someone while driving. 

If the bill were to become law, there would be a fine up to $500 charged to drivers who violate the law, according to the NWI Times. Indiana would also join the ranks of 21 other states, Holcomb said.

 “Distracted driving increases the risk of a crash by more than three and a half times and is a leading killer of teenagers in America,” Holcomb said. “This is unacceptable and avoidable.”

Holcomb addressed his plans to take action by executing a sweeping ban on using any hand-held devices while operating a vehicle. According to University of Indianapolis Assistant  Professor of Political Science Laura Wilson.

“One of the concerns [about the current law] is that people are still using their cell phones while they’re driving, and it’s causing a lot of automobile accidents,” Wilson said.

While there are some who are concerned about enforcing the prospective bill being enforced, Wilson said she thinks that these citizens are more concerned about how an increasing dependence on our devices may influence how safe people feel in their cars. On Jan. 29, the House passed the bill 86-10 and the bill is now in the Senate, according to the NWI Times.

A different bill which could potentially decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, is one of the more controversial issues, according to Wilson. A couple of legislative sessions ago, Indiana did pass legislation relating to CBD oil, she said.

“We have neighboring states that have looked at marijuana differently,” Wilson said. “I think that one is going to be a much harder sell. Indiana… tends to be very conservative.”

Marion County already has handled the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana under the current legislation, Wilson said. However, there are those, such as Attorney General Curtis Hill, who feel that it should still be treated as a crime, Wilson said. The argument about the legalization of marijuana is different in every state. Holcomb does not want to confront the issue, Wilson said. 

Senior marketing major Jennifer Ruiz said she thinks the ban on drivers using hand-held devices while driving would be a positive change if it passes. However, she said some time would be required for the proposed ban to be enforced and for students to realize this change.

“I think it’s going to take adjusting, just like anything else would,” Ruiz said. “I think at first it’ll take the statistics that are given to them [students] to be surprised, but I don’t think it’ll necessarily change their actions unless it [an accident caused by distracted driving] happens to someone who is close to them.”

As for the decriminalization of possessing small amounts of marijuana, Ruiz said that while students on college campuses may not have any issues with decriminalization, the surrounding communities might. Ruiz said that she thinks that some students may feel like they have an excuse for reckless behavior because of it being decriminalized.

“There’s always that one kid who wants to push it,” Ruiz said. “Then, there are kids who don’t want to it right now because of the laws…. I think that [the law’s passing] will increase the usage.”