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New state law to ban use of hand-held cellphones

BARRINGTON – Jan. 1 will bring change for drivers and cellphone users alike. A new state law will prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving – a law that Barrington Police plan to enforce accordingly.

Under House Bill 1247, Illinois will join 11 other states by prohibiting the use of electronic communication devices while driving. Barrington Police Chief David Dorn said the new law will expand upon the current “hands-free” use in school and construction zones – prohibiting hand-held cellphone use on all roadways.

Drivers still can have a conversation while in their vehicle, as the law does make exceptions for hands-free or voice-operated mode devices, including those with headsets. Drivers also will be able to use GPS or navigation devices.

“If it is not possible to turn off your cellphone, there are a number of wireless technology solutions to allow electronic devises to connect while you are driving,” Dorn said. “Many newer cars have built-in Bluetooth systems that sync cellphones with car speakers.”

Dorn suggests that owners of older vehicles consider buying aftermarket devices to integrate with their current phone and car stereo systems, or use a headset. State law mandates that headsets cover only one ear.

Other exceptions to the new law include calling 911 to report an emergency situation or calling while parked on the shoulder of a roadway, according to attorneys at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard of Waukegan.

“When a driver uses a cellphone, it decreases their concentration and response time,” said Patrick Salvi, managing partner at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard. “Our law firm sees too many victims suffer from accidents that involve distracted driving. We hope the new laws will be a reminder for drivers to focus on the road and curb distractions. We also want to warn drivers that in addition to increased criminal penalties, they could also face a civil lawsuit if they drive distracted and injure someone.”

Dorn agreed that the larger issue at hand relates directly to distracted driving, including any actions that take a driver’s attention away from safely operating a motor vehicle, such texting, using a cellphone, eating, drinking, conversing with passengers, grooming, reading, using a GPS navigation system, watching a video or adjusting a music device.

“We have seen these or similar actions cause many crashes within the village of Barrington,” Dorn said, “although, the most dangerous distraction is using a hand-held electronic device.”

If caught using a cellphone without a hands-free device, motorists could face a $75 fine. The penalties increase by $25 for subsequent offenses to a maximum of $150.

According to a 2011 National Highway and Traffic Safety Association study, 21 percent of 15- to 19-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes were distracted by cellphone use. Drivers under the age of 20 have been found to be the most distracted driving age group, with 11 percent of all teen drivers being distracted at the time of a fatal crash.

Another new law increases the penalties that can be imposed on drivers whose use of an electronic device while driving causes an accident.

Under House Bill 2585, if the accident causes great bodily harm to another person, the driver faces a Class A misdemeanor charge and can be sentenced to up to one year in prison.

If the accident causes a death, the driver faces a Class 4 felony charge and can be sentenced to one to three years in prison.

Current law allows drivers to be charged only with traffic violations.

Dorn said the village of Barrington does not have a local ordinance prohibiting cellphone use while driving, but rather the new Illinois law will be enforced locally as of Jan. 1.

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