In an effort to discourage distracted driving, the Illinois General Assembly has passed legislation that would amend the Vehicle Code governing the use of handheld electronic communication devices while driving.  House Bill 1247 now sits on Governor Quinn’s desk for signature.

Currently, motorists 18 and under are prohibited from using cell phones while driving, all motorists are prohibited from using cell phones while driving in school and construction zones, and no driver may text, email, or use the internet.  Assuming the Governor signs HB 1247, all drivers will be generally prohibited from using handheld electronic communication devices, including cell phones.  Several exceptions exist, however.

The biggest exception is that drivers may use cell phones in hands free or voice operated mode.  Additionally, drivers may use their cell phones to report an emergency.  Some other odd exceptions are that drivers may use cell phones when stopped in traffic “due to normal traffic being obstructed” if the vehicle is in park or neutral, drivers are allowed to use CBs and two-way mobile radios licensed by the FCC (hands free or not), and drivers are allowed to hit a single button to initiate or terminate a phone call.  Also, police officers, fire fighters, and rescue squad personnel may talk on their cell phones while performing their duties.

The most interesting exception in this distracted driving legislation is that drivers may use their cell phones if the device is capable of “performing multiple functions, other than a hand-held wireless telephone” for a purpose “not otherwise prohibited by this Section.”  Although the legislature may have intended this exception for people to use navigation and fleet management features on their communication devices, playing games such as I-Tunes, Angry Birds, Words with Friends, and Candy Crush Saga is arguably allowed under this exception.

A first offense of this new legislation would carry a $75 fine but would not be a moving violation.  Second, third, and fourth and subsequent offenses would count as moving violations and respectively carry $100, $125, and $150 fines.

While HB 1247 may seem like a step forward in promoting traffic safety, the bill does not fully address the broader purpose behind the legislation which is to reduce the risks created by distracted driving.  Distracted behaviors can come in all sorts of forms—eating, reading, writing, grooming, smoking, and interacting with others in the vehicle.  Many municipalities in our State have recognized this and have passed local ordinances that prohibit distracted driving period, no matter what the cause of the distraction.  However, defining what it means to be distracted, much less proving a driver was distracted at a particular moment in time, is challenging.

Jennifer J. Gibson

Author: Jennifer J. Gibson