Illinoisans could see license suspended for texting while driving under new state law

Illinoisans could see license suspended for texting while driving under new state law

A new state law could result in a suspended license for drivers operating handheld electronic devices while behind the wheel.

Beginning next summer, Illinois motorists will face stiffer penalties for using electronics behind the wheel.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law House Bill 4846 on Aug. 14, which recategorizes first-time offences for drivers distracted by handheld gadgets – such as cellphones or GPS devices – as “moving violations.” Under this classification, first-time violations will go on motorists’ driving record.

Prior to HB 4846, state law recognized first-time offences for distracted driving as “nonmoving violations,” resulting only in a $75 fine. Drivers would receive graduated fines for additional offences, then categorized as moving violations. Those fines remain under the new law, but first-time offences are automatically categorized as moving violations, rather than nonmoving violations. Three moving violations in 12 months or fewer will result in the mandatory suspension of a motorist’s driver’s license.

The Land of Lincoln is one of 41 states in the U.S. that currently has disciplinary texting-and-driving laws on the books. HB 4846 encompasses all handheld electronic devices – not just cellphones.

The measure, sponsored by state Rep. John D’Amico, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, takes effect July 1, 2019, enjoyed strong bipartisan support in both the Illinois House and Senate and the forceful advocacy of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

“No driver should be texting while driving,” White said in a statement issued Aug. 15. “With the increased use of technological devices, distracted driving has become a serious problem on the roads of our state and throughout the nation.”

White highlighted a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, that found cellphone use to be involved in roughly a quarter of police-reported collisions. That report recorded a 10 percent increase in traffic fatalities from 2015 to 2016.

But while traffic fatalities have indeed increased in recent years, NHTSA has cautioned against tracing that increase to the prevalence of cellphones. Instead, NHTSA has underscored the overall increase in driving activity resulting from a booming national economy and generally low gas prices as the leading cause behind the spike in traffic fatalities.

In a 2016 Washington Post report, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a Virginia-based nonprofit, suggested a decrease in the national unemployment rate as a more likely contributing factor for the traffic fatality increase than distracted cellphone users.

Moreover, there’s little evidence that strict texting-and-driving laws succeed in achieving their intended aim. Take Michigan, for example, which enacted a texting-while-driving ban in 2010. In 2013, the Journal of Adolescent Health released a study measuring the impact of Michigan’s ban. Not only had the law failed to reduce fatal traffic accidents, the study also recorded “small increases in the most severe crash types.”

Present data seem to conflict with state lawmakers’ attitudes toward distracted driving. And it remains to be seen whether HB 4846 will enhance traffic safety in the Prairie State.

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