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Drivers doing OK with new law

But more compliance still needed

Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:48 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 2:09 p.m. CDT

Bureau County is one of six counties designated by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) as the most likely to comply with the state’s new ban on drivers using hand-held cell phones.

IDOT announced this week that Bureau, Rock Island, Champaign, Effingham, Madison and St. Clair counties were the most compliant with the new law, even before it went into effect nearly four months ago. Each of the six counties had a 9 percent rate of electronic use by drivers, based upon a study in November in which officials observed more than 33,000 drivers on roads across the state.

IDOT officials stated the purpose of the study was to measure how many drivers were already complying with the new state law which was passed in August 2013, and went into effect Jan. 1. The November study will be used as a baseline against which future studies could be measured.

On the higher end of the November compliance study, nearly 18 percent of drivers observed in Chicago were holding cell phones or other electronic devices close to their ears or faces.

On Tuesday, Princeton Police Chief Tom Root said compliance with the new cell phone law has been much better than he had anticipated. His department has issued some warnings to violators, but no tickets have been issued so far.

He will continue with the same thought pattern for his department to issue warnings, rather than tickets, unless there is some serious circumstance, such as a crash, involved in the situation, Root said.

Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson said the sheriff ‘s department hasn’t issued any formal warnings or tickets so far for violations of the cell phone ban.

He does have deputies in the mornings and afternoons to watch in school areas for any violations and to also give a general presence in those areas. But in general traffic areas, outside of school zones, his officers are seeing lots of violations of people talking on hand-hand cell phones while driving and also texting while driving, which is also against the law.

Violators are primarily in the younger group of drivers, who sometimes think they are infallible, Thompson said. He’s concerned about those people not taking the care and precautions they should while driving to keep themselves safe, the sheriff said.

That’s the purpose of the law, to keep people safer, Thompson said.

However, he was never an advocate of banning talking on hand-held cell phones while driving, but rather to ban texting while driving, which is the bigger problem. His officers have to multi task all the time while driving, including talking on radios and phones. It would have been hypocritical of him to allow his officers to talk on a phone while driving while others could not. However, the new law does have an exemption for law enforcement officers.

Though his department’s activity against violators has been minimal so far, his deputies will be taking more aggressive enforcement of the new law as it’s needed, Thompson said.

According to the new law, violators of the Illinois hands-free law face fines that start at $75, rising to $100 for a second offence and $125 for a third offense. Fourth and subsequent offenses can be fined $150 each, and after four violations, the state can also suspend the driver’s license.

Distracted drivers convicted of injuring others on the road also face up to $2,500 in fines and up to a year in jail. A distracted driver convicted in connection with someone’s death could face a fine of up to $25,000 and up to three years in prison.

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