ST. CHARLES – St. Charles police officer Scott Coryell sat in his patrol car stationed at the Mobil gas station on Main Street as he watched a group of cars drive by.
Coryell was making sure that motorists weren’t using a hand-held cellphone or some other electronic communication device while driving. Since Jan. 1, a statewide ban has been in effect, barring motorists from using hand-held cellphones while driving. Drivers are still able to use hands-free devices, including Bluetooth, ear pieces or speaker phones.
In pulling over violators, Coryell said he has found there generally are three types of people who are violating the hand-held cellphone ban. Fines for using a hand-held cellphone while driving range from $75 to $150.
“There are those people who generally don’t know the law,” he said. “Then there are the people who are trying, but are not there yet. They have the phone in their hand but are on speaker phone. The last group are those people who know the law, but don’t care. They do what they want.”
Since Jan. 1, the St. Charles Police Department has handed out 299 warnings and tickets to those motorists using a hand-held cellphone or some other electronic device while driving.
Of that number, 39 motorists were given tickets. Erik Mahan, commander of traffic and special events for the St. Charles Police Department, said the department is handing out more warnings than tickets because they are still trying to educate people about the law.
“We’re trying to focus on the education part of it,” Mahan said. “You do have those people who don’t know or it is a habit for them.”
Mahan said he imagines the department will be issuing more tickets in the second half of the year because he said people should be aware of the law by now.
“There has to be enforcement to back it up, as well,” Mahan said. St. Charles Police Department policy requires that officers follow the law, as well.
He said he thinks the law is needed. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, drivers using hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into an accident causing injuries and distracted driving caused 387,000 injuries and more than 3,000 fatalities across the country in 2011.
“If you take your eyes off the road for a few seconds, it can be devastating,” Mahan said.
Not everyone is a fan of the new law. State Rep. Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville was one of several area legislators who voted against the bill before Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law.
“It discriminates against people with hearing issues,” Hatcher said. “It is next to impossible to use a hands-free system when you have a hearing aid.”
State Rep. Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia, who also voted against the legislation, had said he voted against the bill because it addressed only one source of distraction, cellphones.
The Geneva Police Department also is trying to educate motorists about the law. Since January, the department has issued 269 warnings to motorists using a hand-held cellphone or some other electronic device while driving, compared to 56 tickets for using a hand-held cellphone.
“It is always at the officer’s discretion to give a warning or a ticket, but our philosophy has always been to educate and educate first,” said Julie Nash, commander of patrol operations for the Geneva Police Department. “The first six months have been about education, and I think our numbers show that.”
Whether the hand-held cellphone ban has helped to prevent an accident from happening is hard to detemine, Nash said.
“You never know what you stopped from occurring,” she said. “There is no way to gauge it. You hope these things are working.”
Like other departments, Batavia Police Department also has been in the education mode. Since Jan. 1, the department has issued 20 tickets and 153 warnings to violators, Batavia Police Detective Kevin Bretz said.
“We are hoping that people are learning a lesson and that their call can wait,” Bretz said. “I think that six months is a long enough period for people to figure out that this is something illegal. It is the driver’s responsibility to know what the rules of the road are. Driving is a privilege, not a right.”
The North Aurora Police Department issued 40 citations and 13 warnings this spring to drivers violating the state’s ban on hand-held cellphones. From April 1 through May 15, North Aurora police officers were out in force looking for distracted driving violations. The department took part in the Illinois State Police and the Illinois Tollway’s Drop it and Drive Campaign, designed to educate drivers about the new state law.
North Aurora Deputy Police Chief Scott Buziecki said the department will continue to aggressively enforce the new law until people change their behavior.
And people are getting the message, from what Elburn Police Chief Steve Smith has seen.
“I rarely see people talking on their cellphones in school zones anymore,” Smith said. “I think the law is a good thing. People can get distracted from their driving duties.”
Information about the statewide ban on hand-held cellphones is available by going to www.cyberdriveillinois.com.