Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill on July 19 that dramatically increases the penalties for drivers who cause an accident resulting in injury because they were using an electronic device behind the wheel. The law took effect immediately.
Under Public Act 101-90, drivers will have their license suspended for one year and pay a fine of $1,000 if they use electronic devices and cause an accident resulting in great bodily harm. The old penalty was a $75 ticket.
Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, filed the bill after an accident in her district caused a motorcyclist to lose his leg. The driver who caused the accident was on the phone and was written a $75 ticket for using a handheld device behind the wheel.
The new penalties for hurting someone came shortly after another Illinois law changed to impose steeper penalties for any texting and driving. The changes for a first-time texting offense took effect July 1.
First-time incidences of driving while operating a handheld mobile device now count as a “moving violation.” Under state law, moving violations appear on motorists’ driving records, and drivers who receive three moving violations in a year see their driver’s license suspended. First-time offenses still carry a fine of $75.
The law makes some exceptions, such as for drivers using a handheld device to contact emergency personnel.
A study by Volvo found that 71% of Americans admit to using their phone while driving despite knowing it is illegal, and that younger drivers are less likely than their parents to use their phone while on the road.
According to research from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, or NHTSA, over 600,000 drivers nationwide are using their cellphones at any given moment. NHTSA also found 25% of police-reported collisions involve drivers using their cellphone, and that texting while driving is six times more dangerous than impaired driving. Looking away from the road for just five seconds at 55 mph is the equivalent of driving distracted for the length of a football field, according to NHTSA.
By imposing stiffer penalties, state lawmakers and law enforcement leaders hope to save lives by minimizing drivers’ electronic distractions while behind the wheel.