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Put Down Your Cell Phone and Drive—It’s the Law

Rebecca GaleIn recent years, there has been a national increase in discussion regarding the dangers of distracted driving. One of the benefits of that awareness can be observed here in Illinois where there has been successful legislation passed to update the laws relating to cell phone usage behind the wheel.

Currently, driving in Illinois while using a cell phone is illegal for those individuals under the age of 19 with or without a hands-free device, drivers holding a learner’s permit, school bus drivers, all drivers operating vehicles in a school or construction zone, and also commercial tractor trailer drivers without utilizing a hands-free option. All drivers are prohibited from text messaging and related activities such as emailing and using the Internet. The laws that went into effect in the last 16 months were good steps to reduce accidents related to distracted driving, but current legislation has taken further measures to help keep roads safe in Illinois. To that end, effective January 1, 2014, all drivers in Illinois will be prohibited from using hand-held devices.

Two new laws have been signed aimed at improving the statistics relating to distracted driving. One law prohibits the use of all hand-held mobile phones while driving on Illinois roads, and the second increases penalties when any use of an electronic device while driving is the cause of an accident. House Bill 1247 prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle on any road in Illinois while using a mobile phone. The exception to this would be for hands-free devices including those with headsets that can initiate calls with a voice command or a single button. House Bill 2585 increases the penalties that can be imposed on drivers whose use of an electronic device while driving is determined to be the cause of an accident. If the accident causes great bodily harm, the driver can be sentenced to up to 1 year in prison. A fatal accident can result in a prison sentence of 1-3 years and fines up to $25,000. Current law only allows these drivers to be charged with a traffic violation, so the new ramifications are a significant increase in the applicable penalties.

According to the National Safety Council, distracted drivers of all ages are four times more likely to be in an accident when using a cell phone for traditional conversations and eight times more likely while texting. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has concluded that text messaging while driving is the most alarming distraction for a driver because it involves three types of distraction: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your focus away from being a safe, effective driver). Because of these
statistics, the Underwriting Department at Pekin Insurance considers citations for distracted driving, including texting while driving or using a cell phone while driving, as serious motor vehicle violations which may result in changes to a driver’s premium rates or even which auto program a customer would qualify for. When investigating a loss, the Claim Department regularly requests recorded statements from the parties involved, and a standard question during those statements relates to distractions with specific references to cell phone usage. If cell phone usage at the time of a loss is in question, records can be requested, and if a file is under litigation, they may even be subpoenaed as a part of establishing liability.

As drivers, we all have a responsibility to ourselves and others to drive safely. Distracted driving is not just risky, it can have deadly consequences. As community members, parents, and employees, we all have a duty to behave in a responsible manner and set the example. Remember to do your part to keep our roads and highways safe!

Rebecca Gale
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