Getting There: New laws focus on cellphone use, texting
By Cathy Janek For The Sun January 17, 2013 6:48PM
Cathy Janek, Naperville Sun Transportation columnist.
Updated: February 21, 2013 6:24AM
Of the more than 150 laws enacted Jan. 1 by the Illinois State General Assembly, several further restrict the use of hand-held cellphones in construction zones and for commercial vehicles.
Safety advocates question whether the regulations do enough to quell the tide of distracted driving. Distraction.gov, a national website operated by an offshoot of the U.S. Department of Transportation, says that even a hands-free phone conversation causes drivers to miss the important visual and audio cues that would ordinarily help you avoid a crash.
“When you are driving and using your cellphone, a gap exists in reaction time that can really play into the big picture,” Sgt. Al Trotsky of the Naperville Police Department said.
For many of us, talking on our cellphones while driving has become entirely second-nature, myself included. With hands-free technology, we are able to hop in and out of our cars while continuing to talk on our cellphones. I am able to hammer out details for PTA meetings and Girl Scout cookie sales while driving to the grocery store or conducting other errands.
What efficiency! Yes, well, maybe? I recently did miss the “appropriate” entrance for my son’s after-school activity because I was so absorbed in an in-depth discussion. After turning my vehicle around and safely getting my child to where he needed to be, I really took a moment and thought “hmm, note to self, really.”
Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann L. Schneider has gone as far to say that “cellphone distractions have been proven to be as dangerous as drinking and driving.”
A new Illinois law prohibits cellphone use in construction zones. However, motorists can use cellphones in voice-operated mode, which includes the use of a headset or cellphones used with single-button activation.
In Illinois, laws already exist that prohibit the use of cellphones by bus drivers or drivers younger than 19. All drivers are prohibited from using cellphones in a school zone.
A ban on texting while driving already exists in Illinois. Surprisingly, one part of the state law makes an exception that permits drivers to text if traffic is “obstructed” and if the vehicle is in neutral or park.
Many drivers have had the unfortunate experience of driving behind someone who continues to gaze down at their phone long after traffic has once again starting moving further snarling traffic and annoying fellow motorists. If the driver of a vehicle does not proceed with normal traffic flow, it is considered to be a traffic violation, according to Illinois State Police Sgt. Matt Boerwinckle.
A U.S. Department of Transportation study noted that sending or receiving a text while driving takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. If a driver is going 55 mph, it would be the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field blind, the study says.
Last July, a law went into immediate effect that prohibited the use of cellphones within 500 feet of an emergency scene, according to Sgt. Trotsky. One exemption to this regulation is the actual reporting of the emergency for all the Good Samaritans out there.
This law was passed to extend Scott’s Law, which was enacted to make drivers more aware when approaching emergency scenes, Sgt. Trotsky said.
“The goal was to get drivers to pay more attention and reduce the risks to public safety officers.”
Scott’s Law mandates that vehicles change lanes, if possible, away from police officers or other safety officers actively on the roadway (i.e., with their lights flashing), slow dow, and proceed with caution. The law was named for Lt. Scott Gillen, a member of the Chicago Fire Department, who was killed by an intoxicated driver on the Dan Ryan Expressway in 2000.
Sgt. Trotsky said he has personally witnessed accident scenes where police and other safety officers were put at risk because of a driver texting or using cellphones and not paying attention to the emergency scene.
Drivers using cellphones “are splitting their concentration up between their conversations and watching the accident scene,” Trotsky said. “We have had a couple of close calls when officers were almost hit. We have had secondary accidents at crash scenes, because people are not paying attention to their environment around them since they are focused on texting and cellphone use.”
Another new law prohibits drivers of commercial motor vehicles from texting even when temporarily stationed at a red light or from using a hand-held cellphone. Violators can expect hefty fines.
Commercial motor vehicles are considered to be vehicles used in commerce with a weight of 26,001 pounds or more or a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more people, or a vehicle transporting hazardous materials. Exceptions are RVs for personal use, military vehicles, fire trucks, police vehicles and other emergency response vehicles.
Sgt. Trotsky stressed that the winter season is especially dangerous because of the possibility of black ice, snow, sleet and ice.
“Drivers need to concentrate more on their driving environment rather than on their cellphones to ensure their safety and the safety of others motoring with them,” he added.
Cathy Janek, who has lived in Naperville since 1986, writes about transportation.