More than six months into a new Illinois law that prohibits drivers from using hand-held cellphones, some area police departments have written hundreds of tickets for violations.
Under conditions of the law, which took effect Jan. 1, drivers still can use their phones in hands-free or voice-activated mode, which may include a headset. However, holding a cellphone up to your ear while driving is cause for a ticket.
“I’m sure pretty much everyone is aware of this law; it was pretty well publicized,” said Clarendon Hills Police Chief Ted Jenkins. “It’s become a habit for most people to wear a seat belt; maybe, it will just take some time to get everyone on board with this, too.”
LaGrange Park Police Chief Dan McCollum echoed the thoughts of many law enforcement officers when he said any efforts to get drivers to pay more attention is a plus.
“Anything that helps to eliminate a distraction for drivers is a good thing,” Jenkins said. “I still see a lot of people with their phones help up to their ears and texting when I’m driving on my own.”
“You often can see a difference in their driving. They’ll sit at a light when it turns green because they are on the phone and don’t notice, or you’ll see them weaving some on the road.”
Lt. Jeff Mersch of the Westchester Police Department said he believes the law has made the roads safer, but said distracted driving continues to be a safety problem.
La Grange Police Lt. Renee Strasser said people who drive while distracted are a danger to everyone else on the road.
“The real message is that we all have a moral obligation to not allow our electronic communication devices to serve as a distraction while driving,” she said.
The penalty for a first violation of driving with a nonhands-free cellphone is a maximum $75 fine, which increases to $100 for a second offense, $125 for a third offense, and $150 for each additional offense.
A first offense is not considered a moving violation and will not be recorded on a driver’s record. However, subsequent violations are considered moving violations and will be posted on a driving record.
Violations for using a hand-held cellphone are considered a primary stop offense, meaning drivers can be stopped without any other violation.
Chicago, Evanston, Deerfield, North Chicago and Antioch enacted bans on hand-held cellphone driving prior to the state law being approved.
Paul Herrold, 43, of Hinsdale, said the new law hasn’t changed his routine.
“I’ve always used Bluetooth with my cell phone in the car,” he said. “I’ve seen people blow through stop signs and see them on their phones, but I don’t really think it’s less of a distraction to be using a Bluetooth or not using one than having a conversation with someone next to you in the car while you’re driving.”
“I think a lot of things can distract people when they are driving, but texting while driving is really a problem. I still see some people doing that, and that’s really dangerous.”
Roger Warren, 31, of Western Springs, said he went out and purchased a Bluetooth device in December 2013 so that he could comply with the law.
“I never had any problems driving when I used to hold my phone up to my ear, but I feel less distracted using the Bluetooth,” he said. “Most of us probably feel we aren’t distracted until something happens, and then it’s too late.”
Oak Brook Police Chief James Kruger agreed, and predicts fewer traffic crashes over time.
“There are some people who believe that this law is unnecessary and that we should rely solely on common sense,” Kruger said. “But unfortunately we can’t always pass laws on the best case scenario, we have to think about the ‘what ifs.’”
Number of tickets written by town from Jan. 1. through June 30 for cellphone violations
Western Springs: 153
Oak Brook: 144
Clarendon Hills: 138
La Grange: 73
Burr Ridge: 57
LaGrange Park: 56 (warnings issued through February)
Oakbrook Terrace: 38