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Illinois bans texting while driving V.J. | , 11:28 p.m. July 31, 2009 2009-07-31

In late May, the Illinois House passed a bill that bans motorists from sending, receiving or reading text messages, emails or instant messages on a cell phone, PDA or computer while driving. It also prevents drivers from accessing the Internet while behind the wheel. The bill was proposed partially in reaction to a 2006 accident involving a teen driver who hit and killed a bicycle rider in Urbana while attempting to download ringtones to her cell phone.

If signed into law by the governor, the police would be empowered to pull over drivers suspected of violating the law, making it a primary offense. (Some states that have passed the law only permit the police to fine drivers for texting if they were pulled over for violating another law, like speeding.) Drivers caught violating the law may be subject to fines between $75 and $500.

The bill also provides a number of exceptions for situations in which drivers would be permitted to text, including:
-In emergency situations to contact the proper authorities
-In cases where the driver was using a hands-free or voice-activated device
-When the driver was parked on the shoulder of the road
-When the driver was stopped in traffic and has the vehicle in neutral or park

Additionally, police officers and other emergency personnel may text while driving so long as it is done while performing official duties. Commercial drivers also may read messages displayed on permanently installed communication devices in their commercial vehicles.

The bill does not prevent drivers from using GPS, navigation or other devices physically or electronically integrated into their vehicles while driving -- even though some legislators felt these devices should be included in the ban.

Distracted Drivers Prove Lethal on the Road

House Bill 71 was passed in response to the growing number of traffic accidents in the state caused by distracted drivers. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) attributes more than 1000 accidents in 2008 to distracted drivers.

Nationally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 25% of all auto accidents are caused by distracted drivers. NHTSA also has conducted studies showing that cell phone use while driving leads to degraded driver performance and significant cognitive distraction. In other words, if a driver is concentrating on typing a text message or calling the office, the driver is not paying full attention to the road or other drivers.

As the available types of portable technology continue to increase, laws fall further behind in regulating their use. Drivers now have cell phones, PDAs, GPS and navigation systems, televisions, DVD players and computers vying for their attention while driving.

As of June 2009, 14 states have passed complete bans on texting while driving. Eight additional states have passed partial bans, which generally prevent young drivers from texting while operating a motor vehicle.

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