As much as cell phones have made daily life more convenient, they have also made roads much more dangerous in nearly every part of the country. Drivers seem unable or unwilling to put their phones down while they’re driving, leading to a 9.3% increase in fatal crashes in 2017. In response, the state has passed a new law that takes a tougher stance on any cell phone use by drivers.
What the New Law Says
This new law, which went into effect on July 1, 2019, made all cell phone use illegal while driving. Previous laws simply banned talking on the phone while driving or texting, which made it very difficult for officers to hold drivers responsible for unsafe driving practices. In the past, people could get out of a texting while driving ticket by saying they were using the phone for navigation, dialing for a hands-free call, or checking the time. Now, rather than being a defense against a ticket, these statements are admissions to law violations.
Will This Law Keep Illinois Roads Safer?
Proponents of this law are optimistic that it will make Illinois roads much safer for pedestrians, other drivers, and passengers. Now, police officers can ticket drivers if they see them using their cell phone at all—they do not have to prove that the driver was texting or talking on the phone while holding it. Touching the phone at all can lead to a ticket. With the burden of proof set much lower than it was with previous laws, drivers are more likely to think twice when they just want to check a message or dial.
Previously, Illinois had fairly lax penalties for those caught using their cell phone while driving. The first violation would garner a warning and all further violations would be ticketed as non-moving violations. When these efforts failed to decrease accident rates or dissuade drivers from driving and texting, this stricter law was introduced. Now, drivers face a fee of $75 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, $125 for a third offense, and $150 for all further offenses, in addition to court fees for their county.
Other States Passing Similar Laws
This law shouldn’t just put Illinois drivers on alert. Many other states are following suit and passing laws that will require drivers to hold themselves to a higher standard of safety. Beginning in August 2019, Minnesota will implement a full handheld device ban for drivers. A similar law will be enacted in Maine in September 2019. In Michigan, legislators are debating three different bills that could impact how people drive. One would allow for hands-free texting and driving, while others would take a harder stance on any cell phone usage.
Personal Injury Cases for Those Injured by Distracted Drivers
This may be welcome news to those who have been harmed by a distracted driver’s actions. It can be notoriously difficult to prove that a person was using their phone at the time of an accident. Now, however, police in Illinois and other states only need to see the phone in a driver’s hand to be able to write a ticket. If an injured party’s attorney can prove that the other driver was using a phone while driving—via cell phone records or a dash cam, for example—the injured party may have a much easier time recovering damages.
These laws, if they have the intended effect, may also decrease accidents in many states, allowing potential victims to avoid the pain and emotional drain of a personal injury suit in the first place.