In 2014, Illinois enacted a tougher set of regulations for distracted drivers. The new rules banned the use of mobile devices, either to text or call, while driving. The law came after a rash of accidents involving texting and driving that cost thousands of lives across the country.
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Despite the state’s best efforts, new regulations have done little to curtail the problem. Traffic fatalities rose in 2015, and the most recent study by the University of Illinois still found distracted driving as the primary cause for those accidents.
The statistics are troubling for everyone involved in traffic related litigation, from state legislators to a personal injury attorney in Lake County. Problems will persist with the laws until the state can address three critical issues.
The success of any law begins with the enforcement of the statute, and Illinois needs to make some improvements.
Early reports after the initial bill went into effect showed signs of police making an active attempt to enforce the law. The number of traffic stops in some jurisdictions nearly doubled in a few months, but a further investigation discovered a flaw in the system. The percentage of drivers who received citations was a fraction of the number of people stopped. Without the threat of punishment to bring reality to the situation, drivers had little incentive to change their behavior.
Police are making progress in this area. After experimenting with several different setups, police departments all over the state are now using enforcement zones and high enforcement areas to catch offenders. Citation rates are steadily climbing, but while progress is being made, many drivers are still forced to call a personal injury attorney in Lake County for compensation after being struck by a distracted driver.
Cell phones are but one part of the distracted driving equation. The Center for Disease Control, in a joint effort with the Transportation Department, completed a study of driving habits and the causes of distracted driving. They concluded that distractions can be classified in one of three ways.
- Manual: Manual tasks involve a driver taking their hands off of the wheel to perform a task, such as eating, adjusting the radio, or smoking. Manual distractions are dangerous because the driver doesn’t have enough time to get their hands back on the wheel to stop a potential accident.
- Visual: This category includes any task that draws the eyes away from the road, like looking at the phone to read a text message, studying a GPS map or sorting through music. While the eyes are off of the road, the hands can edge the vehicle into a dangerous situation.
- Cognitive: Cognitive distractions take a driver’s mind off of the road, and include day dreaming or talking to other passengers. Previous laws limited the number of passengers new drivers could have in the car, which reduced accident rates for teens, but the laws need to go further.
A personal injury attorney in Lake County may be able to win compensation when the driver is distracted in one of these ways; however, without laws on the books to deter non-phone distractions, motorists will continue to be at risk.
Stiff penalties are said to be a deterrent for crime. Unfortunately, punishments for distracted driving are not stiff enough to act as a meaningful deterrent. A personal injury attorney in Lake County can bring a civil action against a distracted driver, but the state must increase criminal penalties as well.
Currently, the cell phone ban includes a schedule of penalties that ranges from $75 for the first offense, to $150 for the fourth. In addition, drivers who violate the law do not receive a moving violation for their first offense. This allows drivers to keep their driving records clean and avoid a rise in insurance premiums. Penalties do get harsher for drivers who kill someone while distracted. Right now, guilty parties receive a Class 4 felony conviction, and often probation and up to 480 hours of community service.
Efforts are being made to bring distracted driving laws more in line with DUI laws. Last year’s House Bill 3487 proposed raising distracted driving related deaths from a Class 4 felony to a Class 2. The penalties would then include time in prison and a minimum of 480 hours of community service. Statewide there is a push to raise the fee schedule for each violation, including the first.
It only takes seconds of distraction while on the road to lead to serious injury or death. A personal injury attorney in Lake County can pursue a civil judgment, but those awards do little to heal the wounds of a family that has been broken by a distracted driver.