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New Illinois Safe Driving Laws in 2017

Safe DrivingNew laws became effective in Illinois that should bring safe driving to the Land of Lincoln. Most Illinois drivers are familiar with “Scott’s Law.” The law requires drivers to change lanes or reduce their speed if a stationary emergency vehicle with lights activated. Usually, the emergency vehicles are pulled over the side of the road on the highway. Then drivers usually switch to the other lane when passing. The law aims to reduce the injuries of emergency vehicle drivers from  driver passing the vehicles. A new law extends the same courtesy to drivers pulled over with their hazardous lights on.

How Scott’s Law Affects Safe Driving

Named after a firefighter of the Chicago Fire Department, Lt. Scott Gillen, Illinois enacted Scott’s Law in 2000. Lt. Scott Gillen was assisting at a crash on the Dan Ryan Expressway when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver. Many call Scott’s Law the “Move Over” law because it requires drivers to essentially move over. If a driver breaks Scott’s Law, they could face up to $10,000 in fines and a suspended license.

Why has the law changed?

2016 became the deadliest year since 2008 this past year on Illinois roads. As with most driving laws, the main purpose of the law is to ensure that drivers get to their destinations safely. Police officers around Illinois will crack down on unsafe drivers. Their efforts will make sure educated drivers keep roads safer.

As a matter of fact, traffic fatalities reached 1,073 in 2016. The new year brings new goals, and one of the goals is to make Illinois roads safer. Some drivers already move over when there is a vehicle parked on the side of the road, so they will not be affected by the change. In the end, this law should be very beneficial. For instance, if a driver changes their left front tire on the shoulder, vehicles should move over. Now that there is a law requiring this, drivers can feel safer when they need to fix a tire.

What Other Safe Driving Laws Changed in 2017?

8213432552_d4d9b72269_oAnother law that changed in the new year: fines have doubled for cars who attempt to go around lowered railroad crossings has changed. The first offense will cost the driver $500, and any offense after that will cost the driver $1,000. This law has come into effect to keep drivers off the railroad tracks while the gate is coming down. If something were to happen while the driver is on the railroad tracks, it could result in a serious injury or even death. This law is further incentive for drivers to keep off the railroad tracks when the crossing guard is coming down. Additionally, if a driver is driving without insurance, and continue to drive without insurance, the driver could lose their vehicle in 2017.

The last law that has changed is the law that effects driving in school zones. Drivers who speed 26 miles per hour but less than 35 miles per hour through a school or work zone is now a class B misdemeanor, and going faster than 35 miles per hour is a class A misdemeanor and could land a driver in jail.

Safe Driving in 2017

We can only hope that these new laws will bring safer roads in Illinois. Since more than 1,000 people died in car accidents this past year, something needed to change. The fines are the last thing that people should worry about when looking at these new laws. Instead, drivers should abide by the new laws, and in the end, these laws could possibly save lives. It is a new year, so Illinois drivers should make a resolution to make the streets safer.

Tammy Duckworth to Replace Mark Kirk

Tammy DuckworthThe 2016 election came with many surprises, but the election of Rep. Tammy Duckworth to the Senate surprised very few pundits. For now, Republicans have a majority of the seats in the House and the Senate. This means that it will most likely to push Republican policies through. This Tuesday, Illinois elected a new senator, Tammy Duckworth. Rep. Duckworth will replace Mark Kirk as senator. As of 2017, both Senate seats in Illinois are occupied by Democrats. While this election did come with many surprises, Duckworth winning the Senate seat did not come as a surprise to many.  [Read more…]

Forfeited Property: A Police Department’s Secret Stash of Money?


Forfeited PropertyWhen property, such as automobiles, money, houses, and other assets, are taken by the police during the course of an investigation, the state has the option to keep the property or money that has been seized. If the police believe that the forfeited property or money is somehow tied to a crime, then the state can move the court to keep the forfeited property. This process is known as civil forfeiture, and the proceeds from the sale are split between the state’s attorney’s office and the Illinois State Police, and the police have full discretion to decide how the money is used. The Chicago Police Department has made millions of dollars since 2009 selling forfeited property that has been seized from residents in Chicago through civil forfeiture. [Read more…]

Illinois Stoned Driving

Joint stoned driving
On July 30, stoned driving became a possibility. Illinois became the twenty first state to decriminalize marijuana. Governor Bruce Rauner signed a law decriminalizing possession of ten grams of marijuana or less. Along with decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, the new state statute also defines driving under the influence of marijuana. Many people think that this change in the law is very positive since someone who used marijuana weeks prior to being pulled over could test positive and face misdemeanor charges and other fines. According to many defense attorneys and other specialists, the old testing styles led to wrongful convictions. [Read more…]

Is Illinois Bicycle Friendly?

bicycle safetyOver the past decade, sparked by changes in technology, increases in the cost of fuel, and pushes towards renewable energy, bicycling has become more and more popular, but Illinois still doesn’t seem very bicycle friendly, which puts riders at a bicycle safety risk. It is not uncommon to see bicyclers riding in all types of weather during the spring, summer, fall, and sometimes even winter months. Some towns have designated bike trails and paths alongside the roadway. Yet, most cyclists would be surprised if they found out that, according to an 18- year-old Illinois Supreme Court precedent, they are not necessarily intended users of public ways, including popular riding paths and trails.

Bicyclists are permitted users of roadways, but not intended users

In Boub v. Township of Wayne, which took place in 1998, the Illinois Supreme Court held that a cyclist is only a permitted user of a roadway, not an intended user. The court pointed to precedents in the past that indicated that while while intended users are also permitted users, permitted users are not necessarily intended users. The court found that, if no signs or other markings specifically indicate that the roadway is intended for bicycle use, then cyclists are not intended users of the roadway. One of the justices dissented, claiming that the majority’s holding was, as a principal of public policy, both irrational and dangerous. The majority holding in the Boub case discourages municipalities from making roads safer for bicyclists.

Unfortunately, Illinois has not kept up with the growth of bicycling since 1998.

Is Chicago Becoming More Bike Friendly?

Many cities across the state have been taking steps to become more bicycle friendly. Chicago, for instance, is one city that has seen a surge in the number of cyclists, but has taken steps to become more bicycle friendly. Currently, Chicago has more than two hundred miles of on-street protected, buffered, and shared bike lanes, and miles of off-street paths.  Chicago has plans to build up to 645 miles in bike lanes by 2020. These bike lanes will help citizens of Chicago feel safe and comfortable while bicycling on the streets.

Three principles guiding Chicago’s plan to become more bicycle friendly

  • Provide a bicycle accommodation within ½ mile of every Chicago resident
  • Provide a greater number of bikeways where more people live
  • Increase the amount of infrastructure where ridership is high, while establishing a strong backbone where ridership is currently lower, but has the potential to grow.

The goal is to make Chicago one of the best places for cycling in the US, and they are well on their way.

Time for a change?

bicycle safety helmetChicago is not the only city that has become more bicycle friendly. Other urban cities in Illinois have also been recognized as being bike friendly. Some of these cities include: Urbana, Naperville, Evanston, Elmhurst, and Warrenville. While Chicago and other cities have made clear markings and trails that show that bicyclists are intended users, the law is still the same in these cities. If a city has signs, markings, bike paths, special traffic lights for bicyclists, or anything that specifically states that the intention is to improve access for bicyclists, then a bicyclist is an intended user of the roadway, and municipalities are more likely to be liable if a bicycler is injured by a defect in the roadway. If there are no signs, markings, or anything that specifically states that a bicycler is the intended user of the roadway, then a municipality is immune from liability since the bicycler is not an intended user. The problem is that it is impossible to mark every area as an area designated for bicyclers, and if a bicycler crashes in one of these unmarked areas, the municipality is not responsible. There is no uniformity.

What can be done?

If a person driving a car or motorcycle crashes because of a defect in the road, they will be treated differently than a cyclist who crashes because of a defect. This approach does not make a lot of sense, since a lot of municipalities focus on bicycle safety, putting good public policy at odds with the law. A relatively simple solution exists that would level the playing field and solve this problem: the Illinois legislature should pass legislation that declares bicyclers are both intended and permitted users of roadways.

Different advocacy groups for bicyclers in Illinois have tried to propose legislation in the past,but they have not been successful. The legislature could clarify the duty owed to bicyclers and this would encourage more people to use bicycles. And in the end, this could reduce the number of bicycle accidents in Illinois.

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.

Understanding Workers’ Compensation in Illinois

Workers’ compensation protects workers who have experienced work-related injuries. It is a no-fault system of benefits paid by employers. Illinois State law requires employers to bear the cost of workers’ compensation insurance. Most employers buy workers’ compensation benefits and the insurance company pays the benefits on the employer’s behalf, while other employers obtain the state’s approval to self-insure. If an employer self-insures, the employer is responsible for its own claims through a self-insurance mechanism. At one point, workers’ comp rates in Illinois were at the fourth most expensive in the country, but they have been declining over the past few years.

[Read more…]

Illinois Tornado Safety

tornado

With peak tornado season in Illinois taking place from April to June, it is important to be aware of the conditions that are ripe for a tornado and identify what to do to keep you and your family safe regardless of where you are when a tornado strikes. Tornadoes bring with them high winds and heavy rain that can damage your patio furniture and dishevel your hair.  These conditions can prompt street closings, building evacuations, and power outages. Whatever inconveniences severe weather may bring however, what is most important is the impact it can have on human life and safety.

According to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, in 2015 Illinois’ drastic uptick in tornadoes placed it fourth in the U.S. for the number of twisters that year and the Chicago area set a record for most tornadoes in a year in 2015. Their unpredictability makes tornadoes difficult to study but one thing has become crystal clear to scientists across the country; extreme tornado outbreaks are on the rise. Tornadoes are some of the most violent storms in nature that occur when warm, humid winds moving north from the Gulf of Mexico clash with cold, dry winds moving southbound from Canada. This geographic makeup is primarily what has prompted the term “tornado alley,” referring to the area in the U.S. where these winds typically converge.  Although Illinois is not considered part of tornado alley, it is important to remember that violent tornadoes can and do happen outside of that area. [Read more…]

Illinois Nursing Home Mandatory Arbitration Clauses

6850760963_1cc9603d1b_bNursing homes in Illinois can ask residents to sign an arbitration agreement so long as it is drafted in compliance with general Illinois contract law. Although the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act nullfieid any waiver given by a resident that bars his right to litigation, a 2012 Illinois Supreme Court decision invalidated this provision. In short, the provision voided mandatory arbitration clauses. But the Court invalidated the anti-waiver provision of the Act in favor of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), which deems mandatory arbitration clauses valid, irrevocable, and for the most part, enforceable.

In 1979 lawmakers passed the primary regulatory scheme regarding the operation of nursing homes.  The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act was enacted “amid concern over reports of inadequate, improper and degrading treatment of patients in nursing homes.”  The Act gives the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) the authority to regulate the standard of care given in long-term care facilities and provides civil and criminal penalties for violations of these regulations. Among other things, the Act prohibits conduct such as neglect by employees who fail to provide adequate patient care or maintenance resulting in mental or physical injury to a resident. [Read more…]

Illinois Pension Reform Unconstitutional

On May 8, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the pension reform enacted in late 2013 unconstitutional. In In re Pension Reform Litigation v. Quinn, the Court upheld a circuit court ruling that deemed the act to be unconstitutional in its entirety as a violation of the pension protection clause, which states:

“Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not bediminished or impaired.” Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, § 5.

Illinois Pension Reform

Justice Karmeier wrote, “[t]he General Assembly may find itself in crisis, but it is a crisis which other public pension systems managed to avoid and … it is a crisis for which the General Assembly itself is largely responsible.” In the end, the Supreme Court appeared to be signaling to the General Assembly that they would need to find new revenue streams to handle this problem, not pass limitations on the current pension benefits.

This news has brought out concerns on both sides of the issue. Governor Bruce Rauner, who was elected in November 2014, previously stated that he believed the law was unconstitutional and that this ruling “only reinforces his approach of getting voters to approve a constitutional amendment that ‘would allow the state to move forward on common-sense pension reforms.'”

Teacher Pension Reform

However, Illinois AFL-CIO President Carrigan said in a prepared statements that “[w]e are thankful that the Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the will of the people, overturned this unfair and unconstitutional law, and protected the hard-earned life savings of teachers, police, fire fighters, nurses, caregivers and other public service workers and retirees.”

Nevertheless, Illinois had an unfunded pension liability of over $100 billion dollars in 2014  according to the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. Additionally, Moody’s has downgraded Chicago’s bond rating based on the continuing growth of its unfunded pension and the lack of pension reform. Moody’s said the court decision was key to its downgrade because the city has been hoping to reduce cost-of-living adjustments, which typically raise the cost of pensions by close to 50%.

About the Firm


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

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