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Transportation: Distracted driving in summer brings pedestrian troubles

Saddle Farm Lane and Douglas Road in Naperville.  | Courtesy of Luke Janek
Saddle Farm Lane and Douglas Road in Naperville. | Courtesy of Luke Janek

A few weeks before summer vacation, Gregory Middle School student Andrew Reid was riding his bicycle home from school taking his usual route.

This route was chosen specifically because it consists mainly of residential streets and has fewer motorists.

Almost home, at the intersection of Douglas Road and Saddle Farm Lane on the city’s south side, a vehicle hit Andrew’s rear bike tire. The impact caused his bike to turn sideways. Andrew fell and skidded across the pavement.

He sprained his wrist and had cuts across his face and legs. The driver never stopped. Without any witnesses to the accident, he walked home by himself.

“After the especially long winter, now that warmer weather is here, people are getting out and taking advantage of these activities,” Naperville Police Sgt. William Davis said.

In some cases, where there are no sidewalks, people will be jogging on the street, Davis said.

“Motorists need to take extra precautions when driving, especially in early morning and evening hours when the sun is rising or setting,” he added.

With a lot of construction in and around Naperville, a greater number of motorists are taking side streets and cutting through residential neighborhoods, Davis said.

“Motorists need to be more resilient and watch out for bicyclists and pedestrians,” he said.

Distracted driving is frequently cited as a cause of motor vehicle accidents in Naperville, he added.

Despite a new law that makes the use of hand-held cellphones while driving illegal anywhere in Illinois, many drivers still violate that law, he said.

“Cellphones aren’t the only distraction in a car,” Davis said. “Radios, eating or anything other than driving can be a distraction.”

Especially to younger drivers, a large group of passengers in a vehicle can be distracting, Davis said.

Andrew’s mom, Tami Reid, had been Clow Elementary School PTA president when she was approached by fellow District 204 parent Cheryl Miller. Miller requested additional signs reminding motorists of the no hand-held cellphone use in school zones.

In 2008, Miller lost her son Adam Miller in a distracted driving accident on Naperville Plainfield Road. In addition to spearheading efforts to tighten the penalties for distracted driving through Illinois, Miller also wanted to bring attention to the dangers of distracted driving to District 204 schools. She requested signs to remind motorists of the cellphone law.

In January 2010, when the law went into effect, Miller thought the signs would begin popping up. When they didn’t, Miller began contacting local legislatures and fellow parents like Reid.

Clow Elementary had a distracted driving awareness campaign within the Clow community based on Miller’s request, Reid said.

Reid is secretary of the Indian Prairie Parents’ Council, the District 204 umbrella organization for its 34 schools.

“We were able to get signs at the Aurora schools immediately.”

“It has come full circle for me,” she added. “My child was hit, likely by a distracted driver.”

A couple of weeks earlier, another child riding his bicycle also was hit by an unidentified motorist in the same vicinity, Reid said.

“There are people who aren’t getting the message about the dangers of distracted driving,” she added.

“I look at what could have happened with Andrew and am so grateful. It could have easily not been such a positive outcome.”

For many, our calendars are already filled for the summer, and we are busy hopping from here to there.

As busy as we are, we have to remember to watch out for people on the streets and sidewalks, especially children, because we surely want to make sure someone is watching out for ours.

Cathy Janek, who has lived in Naperville since 1986, writes about transportation in the city. To offer comments and tips, email her at cathymjanek@gmail.com.

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