Using a Cell Phone While Driving Could Now Result in a Felony Conviction in Illinois
In the year 2010, 3,267 drivers were killed in “distraction-affected” auto accidents, which was a new measurement meant to keep track of the effect of texting, calling, or simply answering a phone call while driving. These victims accounted for 1 out of every 11 U.S. traffic deaths in 2010. In 2011, the number of deaths increased to 3,331.
On Friday, August 16, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn took action to try and curb the number of Illinois residents killed and injured in distraction-related auto accidents. A bill which increases the criminal penalties for drivers who cause an accident because they were using an electronic device was signed by Governor Quinn and goes into effect on January 1, 2014. While previously drivers were only subject to traffic violations for these types of accidents, they will now face jail time. A driver distracted by an electronic device who harms another driver would face a Class A misdemeanor, which could result in a fine of up to $2,500 and less than a year in jail. A driver distracted by an electronic device who is involved in a fatal accident could be charged with a Class 4 felony, which carries a fine of up to $25,000 and up to three years in jail.
Governor Quinn also signed a bill which will make it illegal for drivers in Illinois to use hand-held cell phones while driving. This will also take effect on January 1, 2014. This law makes Illinois the 12thstate in the United States, in addition to Washington, D.C., to ban all hand-held cell phone use while driving. Drivers who are stopped for using a cell phone while driving will face a $75.00 fine for the first offense. The fine will then increase for repeat offenders up to $150.00. In addition, violating this law will be considered a moving violation, and drivers who have three fines in one year will be at risk of losing their license.
As most Illinois residents already know, texting while driving has been banned in the state for several years. These new laws are another tool to try and prevent accidents involving distracted drivers. The U.S. Department of Transportation has found that drivers using hand-held cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in an accident involving injuries.
As someone who has been rear-ended on two separate occasions by a driver who was distracted by a cell phone, I feel these laws are a positive move for Illinois. Most of us have seen the electronic signs on interstates with the running tally of motorists killed on Illinois roads in the current year. Taking steps to reduce this number should be applauded. Drivers face many distractions while on the road, and these laws are a way to directly address one of those distractions.
Although these laws do not take effect until January 1, 2014, there is no reason to wait until then to stop using hand-held cell phones while driving. The next few months are an opportunity to break old habits and be prepared to avoid the fines associated with violating these laws, not to mention the increased risk of accidents.