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Light It Up…Safely – Fireworks Safety

In a few weeks, all over the Chicago suburbs, families and friends gather together to celebrate Independence Day. The Fourth of July celebration and festivities are always fun filled. We enjoy the colorful parades, hot barbecues, and spectacular fireworks shows. Of course, some risks exist with parades and barbecues. But fireworks safety needs a special focus.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency, 18,500 fireworks-related fires are reported each year, including 1,300 building fires, 300 automobile fires, and 16,900 outside and other fires. On average each year, fireworks are responsible for three deaths, 40 injuries, and $43 million in property damage. The NFPA reports that in 2015, 11,900 people were treated in the United States’s hospitals for fireworks-related injuries. Of those treated, 51% were injuries to limbs while 41% were injuries to the head.

The NFPA advises against buying and using consumer grade fireworks. Due to the risks associated with pyrotechnics as well as the quality of the fireworks, leave it to the professionals. Recently, a 15-year-old in Davenport, Iowa sustained injuries to his hand from consumer grade fireworks. The teenager headed to Peoria, Illinois for surgery on the hand. However, doctors had to amputate the hand.

Additionally, even the “safe” fireworks cause injuries. Many Americans buy sparklers and firecrackers. And while families, especially kids, love these products, many suffer burns. Sparklers burn hot enough to sustain third-degree burns. The NFPA reports that sparklers make up 25% of firework injuries treated in emergency rooms.

Fireworks Safety Tips

memorial day

With the approaching Fourth of July holiday, remember these fireworks safety tips.

Follow local firework laws and ordinances

While a rural town may have more lax fireworks safety ordinances, not all neighborhoods follow those same casual rules. Check your local community rules and regulations regarding the use of fireworks before purchasing and using fireworks. In Illinois, the Illinois’ Pyrotechnic Use Act bans the sale, possession, and use of those “consumer fireworks.” This includes bottle rockets, roman candles, and firecrackers.

Properly dispose of fireworks after use

If you seek to break Illinois law, please properly dispose of fireworks. Get the objects wet and place them in a metal trash can away from any buildings. Even if the firework does not launch, “duds” can still re-light. Be sure to never relight a “dud” firework. According to Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn, “you just let it be and wait fifteen to twenty minutes and then put it in a bucket of water.”

Do not use consumer grade or homemade fireworks…but if you do, be smart.

According to NFPA’s Dan Doofus, do not use consumer fireworks because “they are too dangerous” and responsible most firework-related injuries. Additionally, avoid making your own homemade fireworks. Again, if you seek to break Illinois law, when using fireworks in a home or residential setting, read all of the directions on the packaging. Make sure the product is safe for use. However, as always, use caution and wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from any potential injuries.

Keep a close eye on children at firework events

According to the NFPA, most injuries affect children and teenagers. Be sure to monitor children in situations where fireworks are present. And remember to never give children fireworks!

Keep your pets safe from fireworks as well

Pets easily startled by the loud noises associated with fireworks. For this reason, do not bring your pets should to fireworks shows. Regardless of the size of the show, your pet could run away if it gets startled. Additionally, if you seek to break Illinois law and use fireworks at home, be sure to keep your pet inside in an interior room to keep the animal from hearing the loud, bombastic noises. In the event an animal does run away during a firework display after being startled, always make sure your pet has updated identification tags so others can return your pet to you.

Leave it to the firework experts, and go to a professional firework show

Most importantly, having your own firework display in Illinois is illegal.

In Arlington Heights, if you get caught with fireworks, in addition to potential injury, you will pay a fine. Additionally, the state can charge you with a misdemeanor and arrest you.

To ensure your safety and to stay within the boundaries of the law, leave the firework shows to the professionals. Removing the hazardous element to your Fourth of July celebration allows you and your family to enjoy the holiday with any added risks.

Happy Fourth of July from all of us at R.F. Wittmeyer!

Summer 2017 Road Construction Projects

As summer begins, remember to add extra time to your trips to ensure your safety due to road construction. Road construction can lead to car accidents, truck accidents, and bike accidents. Additionally, with many people enjoying the weather, be careful of distracted drivers or individuals who may be driving under the influence. To keep the workers and yourself safe, stay off your phone and drive safely this summer.

Suburban Construction

The Illinois Department of Transportation provides a map of the largest construction projects each year. For a clickable map, check out the IDOT website.

However, a few examples of major suburban roadwork includes:

  • In Des Plaines, finishing touches continue at the I-90 and IL-83 (Elmhurst Rd.) interchange. This affects Oakton St., Elmhurst St., and Busse Rd.
  • In Schaumburg, Higgins Rd. (IL-72) will undergo roadwork which may lead to long delays. The construction will occur west of I-294, just south of Woodfield.
  • Near O’Hare, major roadwork will occur on Irving Park Rd. in Bensenville until September. Since this is a major thoroughfare for trucks, please be very careful. If you have been injured in a truck accident near O’Hare, please contact the Law Offices of R.F. Wittmeyer, Ltd. today.

Chicago Construction

In the city of Chicago, several major roads are undergoing major road construction. According to WGN,

  • Lakeshore Drive will undergo structural improvements and repairs at the LaSalle Drive Viaduct beginning mid-summer. Expect some lane closures on Lake Shore Drive. However, the Chicago Department of Transportation will try to work around peak rush hours. Nonetheless, the work may take eight months to complete.
  • Grand Avenue reconstruction is underway between Pulaski and Chicago.  One lane will be maintained in each direction throughout the project with one exception. Between late June to July, Grand Avenue will be fully closed at Homan for five weeks under the railroad viaduct.Work will continue throughout 2017.
  • For other Chicago roadwork information, check out the list from WGN.

Real-Time Traffic Reports

As you head out, make sure to check the local traffic reports, which include construction delays. We recommend all of the local news networks, especially NBC Chicago.

 

Illinois Distracted Driving Awareness Week

Distracted Driving

In support of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, from April 24 through April 28, Illinois has designated Distracted Driving Awareness Week. The Illinois Association of Police asked the governor to declare that week as National Driving Awareness Week. The goal is to bring awareness to the potential consequences and dangers that result from distracted driving. The governor and both houses passed resolutions, recognizing this week as National Driving Awareness Week in Illinois.

[Read more…]

When Will Self-Driving Cars Roam Illinois Roads?

self-driving car

Research project Highly automated driving on highways – Dr. Nico Kämpchen on a test drive (08/2011)

In a few years, Illinois motorists might have to start sharing the road with self-driving vehicles. Self-driving cars are common in cities across the United States, mainly in California. Some states have moved to allow these cars to be fully autonomous, meaning no driver, steering, or even backup driver. These cars will certainly be life-changing. But many people still have a litany of legal, ethical, and safety questions about the cars. These cars could lead to a reduction in the number of accidents and deaths on the road.  If they function correctly, this could make everyone’s life safer.

Why the Push for Self-Driving Cars?

Basically, many who favor self-driving vehicles want them because it will make the roads safer. According to those in favor, too many people die while driving, and not just in Illinois. People across the country lose their lives because of car accidents, and researchers are constantly trying to find different ways to prevent this from happening. Human errors and behavior cause over 94% of fatal car accidents in fact. Proponents of driver-less cars feel that this technology can do a lot better. Without distracted drivers at the wheel, self-driving cars cannot drive impaired and will obey the rules of the road.

Self-Driving Cars: Are They Safe?

self-driving cars

A current Illinois bill would allow manufacturers of self-driving cares to test these cars on Illinois roads. The sponsor said these cars would make roads safer and would also lead to economic growth. According to researchers, this technology may perform better than humans currently perform and thus make roads safer for everyone.

Additionally, this technology poses a lot of benefits for people who should notdrive anymore.For example, many worry about their elderly parents who cannot drive safely anymore. A self-driving car would allow an elderly person the freedom to safely go wherever he or she want to go.

One last concern about self-driving cars is how safe they are on icy roads. Since the cars drive based on the lane markers, researchers work to find ways to help the cars if snow covers the lanes.

Pushback in Illinois Against Allowing Self-Driving Car Testing

Howeer, motorcycle rights activitsts worry about the safety of self-driving cars. They claim the current bill is incomplete because there is no requirement for the systems to detect smaller vehicles.

According to the group opposing the bill, testers should make certain that the self-driving cars can see smaller objects. Due to weather conditions and their size, self-driving cars may not locate motorcyclists. The group wants to ensure that these cars do not contribute to an increase in motorcycle accidents. However, the spokesperson for GM has assured everyone that it will be a few years before these vehicles are even ready. He asserts the cars will be completely safe before they set out on our roads.

The Future of Self-Driving Cars

Whether people like it or not, self-driving cars are most likely going to become more popular around the country. These cars will probably start similar to a taxi-cab service, but expand beyond that as technology improves and the cars become cheaper to produce.

But what happens with liability if a driver of a self-driving car gets into a car accident? Normally, the injured person sues the driver if the driver has been negligent. Now, if a self-driving car is negligent and gets into an accident, and the driver did nothing besides sit behind the wheel, it is unclear whether or not the injured person can sue the driver of the car.

Illinois Sued Over “Separate But Unequal” School Funding

school funding

On February 14, 2017,  Chicago’s school system sued Governor Bruce Rauner and the Illinois board of education. The plaintiffs claim that the Department of Education and Governor violated the civil rights of minority children. They alleged that the state school funding system was prejudiced.  The plaintiffs, five Chicago public schools families, want the state of Illinois to be barred from distributing state aid in a manner that discriminates against the plaintiffs.

[Read more…]

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.

About the Firm


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

About Ron

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