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Distracted Driving: Staying Focused on the Road in Illinois

Distracted driving is linked to more than 1.6 million crashes in the United States annually, resulting in serious injuries and sometimes deaths.  Some experts say the economic impact of these car accidents reaches nearly $40 billion per year. A recent American Automobile Association study suggests that almost everyone reaches for something, adjusts a control, or gets distracted while driving at some point, which is one of the reasons why distracted driving is such a big problem.

Efforts to Make Streets Safer from Distracted Driving

Distracted DrivingThe National Highway and Transportation Administration found that texting while driving is very similar to driving while intoxicated. In response to this alarming discovery, on January 1, 2014, the Illinois legislature attempted to make the streets safer by passing legislation to address the problem of driving while using a cell phone. Illinois banned drivers from using a cell phone to call someone or text someone while operating a motor vehicle, unless the person parked the car. Drivers over the age of 18 may use a hands-free device or bluetooth technology, but many critics consider these devices distraction and potentially dangerous. Even with hands-free technology, experts recommend that the driver pull over to somewhere safe to make a phone call. If a driver crashes because he or she is distracted, the driver may face criminal penalties and incarceration.

Can Illinois drivers ever use a cell phone while driving?

 

An Illinois driver may use a cell phone in the following situations:

  • Reporting an emergency situation
  • Using hands-free or in voice-activated mode
  • Parked safely on the shoulder of a roadway
  • Stopped due to normal traffic being obstructed and you put the vehicle in neutral or park

Has the new legislation helped decrease the number of traffic fatalities?

Unfortunately, the results of the new legislation underperformed in 2014. As a matter of fact, the number of traffic fatalities increased in Chicago. In 2015, there were fifty more fatalities that resulted from traffic accidents than in the previous year. Some state legislators have entertained the idea of passing new legislation that would impose even more severe penalties for distracted driving. Whether or not stricter penalties for distracted driving will reduce the number of car accidents is uncertain.

Are you a distracted driver?

Distracted DrivingWhen driving do you:

  • Shave?
  • Text or email?
  • Read or write?
  • Tune the radio?
  • Put on makeup?
  • Eat, drink, or smoke?
  • Talk on the cell phone?
  • Comb or brush your hair?
  • File, clip, or polish your nails?
  • Argue with another passenger?
  • Reach for the glove compartment?
  • Break up fights between your kids?
  • Put in contact lenses or eye drops?
  • Pick something up from the floor or between the seats?

If you answered yes to any of the previous questions, welcome to your status as a distracted driver. Almost every driver has engaged in at one point or another but any of these activities could easily lead to an accident. And some accidents can be fatal.

How do you avoid distracted driving?

To avoid being distracted, you can:

  • Limit interaction with other passengers
  • Avoid talking while driving
  • Avoid taking your eyes off the road
  • Keep both hands on the wheel

Most importantly, the idea of distracted driving needs to be taken as seriously as driving under the influence. Both driving while intoxicated and texting while driving can result in following too closely, not being able to brake on time, and weaving in and out of oncoming traffic. A recent study has found that drunk driving fatalities have decreased by 25% from 2002 to 2011, but distracted driving fatalities have increased by 22% from 2002 to 2011. Texting likely appears to cause the rise in distracted driving fatalities. With advances in technology, drivers easily get distracted behind the wheel, but drivers should always keep their eyes on the road and realize that a distraction could easily result in a death or serious injury.

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Ronald F. Wittmeyer, Jr. practices plaintiffs' personal injury law at his office in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

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