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State of Driving: Indiana

Craig Guillot

Home to the world’s most famous auto race, the second-largest city in the Midwest, and millions of acres of farmland, Indiana can be a diverse place for drivers. From its urban freeways to rural farms, the state has a robust car culture rooted in automobile history. Hoosiers’ long lasting love for vehicles is still demonstrated in their car museums, events and in their high number of vehicles per resident.

While slow-moving farm equipment on roads can present some dangers during harvest season, Hoosiers are generally considered courteous drivers. A number of studies have also given the state’s drivers good marks, based on criteria such as accident rates, insurance premiums and safety. Here are some things to know before taking the wheel in The Hoosier State.

Hoosier State Car Culture

Indiana has been known as the “Crossroads of America” since the early 1900s when people crossed the state on horse and wagon on the National Road between Indianapolis and Vandalia. Nowadays, the state is traversed by four major interstates which connect it with the Northeast, Southeast and the rest of the Midwest. More than fifty percent of the U.S. population lives within a single day’s drive of Indianapolis.

As a busy transit point between the Northeast and the Midwest, Hoosiers have developed a strong car culture and love for automobiles. At the Dream Car Museum in Evansville,more than 60 vehicles make up one of the most extensive collection of vintage and exotic cars in the Midwest. The Auburn Cord Dusenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn features more than than 100 antique cars, and the Hostetler’s Hudson Auto Museum in Shipshewana is home to the largest collection of Hudson automobiles in the world.

Indiana has been a pioneer in automotive history. The state was a major supplier of parts to Detroit automakers in the 1950s and 1960s. At one time, more than 20,000 workers made car parts for General Motors in the town of Anderson. Auto manufacturing remains a key industry here and makes up the largest share of jobs in the state’s advanced manufacturing industry, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution. Automotive manufacturing currently accounts for nearly 100,000 jobs.

Auto racing is also an industry here in its own right. Indiana is home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which was constructed in 1909 and has since grown to be one of the highest-capacity sports venues in the world. Every Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of thousands of race car fans flock to Indianapolis for the Indy 500 where 33 drivers race 200 laps around the track (for a total of 500 miles) at over 200 miles per hour. Drivers who would like to put their pedal to the metal in a safe and legal fashion can race an Indy Car at the Indy Racing Experience.

And for those looking to live in the slow lane, there are a number of great road trips in the state, including the Lincoln Highway which was the nation’s first intercontinental highway between New York and San Francisco. Indiana is also home to traditional drive-in movie theaters where movie goers can enjoy some automobile nostalgia and watch the big screen from the comfort of their vehicle.


With nearly 90,000 miles of road and only 3.9 million licensed drivers, Indiana tends to have a moderate amount of vehicles traversing its major highways and interstates at any given time.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, Indiana drivers averaged 11,655 miles in 2014, fairly fewer than the national average of 13,500. There are roughly 5.5 million registered vehicles in the state.

From Indy to Rural Farm Roads

There are roughly 90,000 miles of roadways in the state, including 12,000 miles of interstate, U.S. and state roads, and 66,000 miles of county roads. Interstates 65, 69, 70 and 74 converge in the center of the state in Indianapolis. These major thoroughfares bring people across the state, adding to the congestion. But although drivers in the state’s capital may complain about traffic, it’s mild compared to other cities. The TomTom Traffic Index ranked the city 187 out of 189 for traffic and congestion. Only Knoxville, Tennessee and Dayton, Ohio had less traffic.

Rural roads are in urgent need of improvement and repair. A 2016 report by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute estimates it would take nearly $6.4 billion to bring the state’s rural roads up to an “acceptable” level and to repair or replace structurally deficient bridges. The report noted that many of Indiana’s country roads have rough pavement, poor visibility at crossings, and undersized roundabouts.

With more than 58,000 farms in the state, driving in rural farming areas during harvest season can present hazards. Slow-moving, wide equipment entering highways from fields with blind corners can create dangerous situations. Many roads next to farms have yellow signs with a silhouette of a farmer on a tractor to warn drivers that slow-moving vehicles and equipment are likely to be on the roadway. The state has engaged in more safety awareness campaigns to improve safety during harvest season with things like additional road signage and public service announcements through local media. recently ranked Indiana as the 9th best state for drivers. The rankings were based on commute time, insurance cost, gasoline spending, average cost of a repair, car thefts per 100,000 people, and car fatalities per 100,000 people. Iowa, Ohio and Maine took the top three spots in the rankings whereas Nevada, New Mexico and California ranked last.

Whether on the freeway in the state capital or on a rural highway, drivers should only use the left lane for passing. Indiana takes its right lane seriously and in 2015, a

law was passed requiring motorists in the left lanes of highways to move over for faster vehicles to pass. Drivers can be fined $500, but the mandate does not apply during heavy traffic, bad whether, while exiting on the left, paying a toll or pulling over for an emergency vehicle.

Filling the Tank

AAA reported in mid-April 2017 that the average price of a gallon of gas in Indiana was $2.41 per gallon, slightly above the national average of $2.39 per gallon. The lowest average prices are in Evansville-Henderson, followed by Terre Haute and Fort Wayne. Of all the state’s metro areas, Gary had the highest average gas prices at $2.48 per gallon.

It could soon become more expensive to drive on the state’s roads. In March 2017, an Indiana Senate committee approved plans to open up the state’s highways to tolling, and to raise the state gas tax by 10 cents, bringing it to a total of 28 cents per gallon by 2018.

Drivers can save on gas by keeping their tires properly inflated, avoiding traffic and driving the speed limit.

Employment Rate

Indiana has a relatively strong economy and is expected to experience growth throughout 2017. The state’s employment rate generally followed national employment trends after the Great Recession and fell from a high of 11 percent in 2010 to only 4.1 percent in February 2017. Some of Indiana’s largest sectors include manufacturing, life sciences, IT and transportation.

Employment rates and economic trends can impact highway safety because more workers means more people commuting to work—and more accidents. The state’s 2015 Traffic Safety Annual Report found that accidents have increased, with traffic fatalities rising from 754 to 829 between 2010 and 2015.

In 2016, the National Safety Council said in a statement that “while many factors likely contributed to the fatality increase, a stronger economy and lower unemployment rates are at the core of the trend.”

Distracted and Dangerous Driving

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents in the state. The Indiana State Police maintain the Automated Reporting Information Exchange System (ARIES) which tracks vehicle crash data, including distracted driving incidents, to improve safety planning and design.

In 2011, Indiana joined the list of states that have banned drivers from texting while driving. Yet, it can be hard to enforce as authorities can’t confiscate phones or look at them to determine whether the driver had been using them at the time of the accident. The law does not ban drivers from using their phones for other reasons, such as looking at a map or directions. Some state legislators are now looking to ban handheld devices altogether. State law prohibits drivers the use of all communication devices by drivers under the age of 18, and it bans texting for all drivers. The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute reports that between 2011 and 2015, police across the state issued 2,020 tickets and 2,134 warnings for texting while driving.

Indiana has lately also been trying to increase awareness about distracted driving. In January 2016, the state started issuing new license plates printed with the phrase “Put the Phone Down.” Drivers can reduce distractions by putting down the phones, food, pulling over to attend to children and avoiding heated conversations.

Fortunately, Indiana does a good job of keeping drunk drivers off the road. conducted a study of data from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the FBI and placed Indiana as the 2nd safest state in regards to drunk driving hazards.

MADD notes that since 2015, judges have the option to order interlock devices for all first time offenders and required to order them for repeat offenders. As of 2015, there were more than 1,000 of these installed on vehicles in the state, and the devices are estimated to have prevented 7,000 instances of drunk driving in the past ten years.

Young Drivers

Young drivers are licensed in Indiana through a 3-stage program where drivers progress in skill, experience and the ability to make decisions on the road.

Drivers can start with a Learner’s Permit at the age of 15 years if they are currently enrolled in a driver education class approved by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) and can pass a knowledge exam. Without enrolling in a BMV drivers education class, drivers must wait until the age of 16 to obtain a learner’s permit.

At age 16 and 90 days, the driver can apply for a probationary driver’s license after the passing of a drivers education course. Those who have not taken a course must wait until they’re 16 years and 9 months old. The applicant must have also have held their learners permit for 180 days and have completed at least 50 hours of supervised driving. After the driver has held the probationary license for 180 days, or at age 21, the driver is eligible for a full, unrestricted license.

Parents can help keep younger drivers, and others, safe by setting limits and enforcing them. There are also a number of devices on the market that allow parents to monitor not only how fast their teens drive, but where they go and if they engaged in risky behaviors on the road.

Auto Insurance

The state of Indiana requires all drivers to have a minimum amount of liability insurance coverage, including:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury or the death of one person in any one accident
  • $50,000 for bodily injury or the death of two or more people in any one accident
  • $10,000 for property damage in any one accident

These minimums are below what many insurance professionals and financial advisors recommend. Robert Johnson, attorney with the law firm of Johnson/Jenson in Indianapolis, recommends that drivers carry $100,000 to $300,00 of personal liability coverage and $10,000 of medical payments coverage. “This is more than the law requires you to have, but it doesn’t actually cost much more,” Johnson adds.

The State of Driving in Indiana

With a strong automotive history, a love for racing, and relatively safe driving conditions, Indiana is a good state to be behind the wheel. Keep an eye out for farming equipment in rural areas, watch your speed in Indianapolis, and enjoy the ride.

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