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Cathy Janek: Drive faster on some roads, but don’t talk on your cellphone

<p>Park Ridge police are reminding drivers that a new state law, effective Jan. 1, will make driving while using a hand-held cellphone illegal. | Jennifer Johnson/Sun-Times Media</p>
Cathy Janek, Naperville Sun Transportation columnist.

An assortment of new Illinois laws take effect Jan. 1 that will likely cause some motorists to modify their driving habits. Other changes are aimed at improving the safety of our state’s youngest drivers by toughening standards under the state’s Graduated Driver License program.

The first is one many of us are guilty: talking on our cellphones while driving. It’s dangerous, we know, but come Jan. 1, it will be illegal, too.

To reduce the number of distracted driving crashes, the new law prohibits the use of all hand-held mobile devices throughout Illinois. Now only hands-free devices or one-touch communication devices are permitted. Global positioning systems (GPS) or navigation systems physically or electronically integrated into a motor vehicle are still permitted.

Previously, cellphone use had been banned in school and work zones.

A Bluetooth device is acceptable, but motorists cannot use headsets or ear buds that cover both ears, DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba said in a press release.

“Fines are $75 for the first offense, $100 for the second, $125 for the third and $150 for subsequent offenses,” according to Naperville Police Department’s Sgt. Lou Cammiso.

And if you hurt someone, the punishment will be stricter, too. A distracted motorist involved in an accident resulting in great bodily harm, permanent disability, or disfigurement to another will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, Cammiso said.

“An accident resulting in death due to distracted driving will be considered a Class 4 felony,” he added.

The charges are more severe for motorists younger than 19. Illinois law prohibits these motorists from using a cellphone while driving, including a hands-free device, except to contact a law enforcement agency, health-care provider or emergency services agency.

A motorist younger than 19 involved in an accident with injuries while using a wireless device will face more severe charges: a Class 4 felony.

“Due to the historically high incidents of driving fatalities with teen drivers, Secretary (Jesse) White has put into place tougher standards, and in some cases, the penalties are tougher,” said Dave Druker, a spokesperson with the secretary of state’s office.

The idea is meant to discourage bad behavior early on, he added.

Another new law prohibits a driver younger than 18 with an unresolved traffic citation to obtain a license. Under the old law, a new license applicant was not required to report any pending traffic citations. Dubbed “Kelsey’s Law,” it was created after a young driver with a learner’s permit struck and severely injured a teenager walking alongside a country road. The state was unaware of the citation because there was no reporting requirement. Days later, the ticketed motorist received his license.

Another law that will become effective July 1, requires people ages 18 to 21 who did not take driver’s education in high school to complete an adult driver education course before obtaining an Illinois driver’s license. In 2012, 31,979 driver’s licenses were issued to 18 to 20 year olds. Of those, 16,494 did not take driver education.

Patricia’s Law was named in honor of Patricia McNamara, who was killed in an automobile crash in which the driver received court supervision. Effective Jan. 1, this law will ensure that drivers of all ages involved in fatal crashes are ineligible for court supervision.

Speed limit hike

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) release the final map of roads in Illinois where you will be able to drive 70 mph. Nine-hundred signs have been created, said Jae Miller IDOT’s chief communications officer.

“The total fabrication and installation cost for the 70 mph speed limit signs is estimated to be approximately $200,000,” she said.

IDOT cannot legally post the 70 mph speed limits until the law goes into effect Jan. 1.

“The signs will be installed by IDOT district forces between Jan. 2 and 17,” Miller said.

The Illinois Tollway plans to increase the speed limit on the following Tollway segments:

Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) west of the I-39 interchange in Winnebago County (15 miles).

Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) west of Route 47 in Kane, DeKalb, Ogle and Lee counties (64 miles).

Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80) north of Stearns School Road in Lake County, pending speed limit increase on I-94 in Wisconsin (6 miles).

“We remind our customers to always obey the posted speed limit while driving on the Tollway and all Illinois roads,” said Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur in a press release Friday. “The new 70 mph speed limit goes into effect on segments of our system that can accommodate the higher speed.”

The law makes a provision for the more populous counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will to adopt ordinances establishing lower speed limits.

The change also stipulates a lower threshold for what is considered “excessive speeding” to 26 mph. Previously, it had been 30 mph.

While driving faster might get you there quicker, keep in mind that safety should be your No. 1 priority in the new year. So put that cellphone away when you’re behind the wheel — it might just save your life or the life of another.

Happy new year!

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