Illinois Texting Laws

Illinois Distracted Driving Laws

1. Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for bus drivers (Primary Law).

2. Ban on all cell phone (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).

3. Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).

4. Illinois bans the use of cell phones while driving in a school zone or in a highway construction zone.

Illinois Texting Law

Illinois Texting While Driving Stand

Preliminary figures have shown that distracted driving as a result of cell phone and text-messaging use has contributed to or caused over 1,000 vehicle crashes during 2010, in the state of Illinois alone.

In the city of Evanston, Illinois, the City Council Committee has unanimously approved proposed legislation, which issues a total ban on driving while using cell phones and other electronic portable devices. Fines for infractions can range from $50 to $200. According to Alderman Jane Grover, the intent was to make the new ordinance more seamless with that of the City of Chicago.

Handheld cell phone laws have been enacted or considered by a number of other municipalities besides Evanston, including: Highland Park – whose handheld cell phone ban began June 1, 2011; Winnetka; Deerfield, whose handheld cell phone ban went into effect Nov. 1, 2011; and Lake Forest which is considering a similar law.

This is a significant piece of legislation for the region, given that the law applies to both handheld and hands-free operation. This new law comes on the heels of the suburb’s 2010 ban of driving while using handheld cell phones and text messaging. If approved by the Evanston City Council in April, this legislation will be the most restrictive of all of the distracted driving laws in the nation. In addition, legislation has been proposed which includes eating and grooming while driving.

In contrast, the suburb of Park Ridge dropped plans to issue a cell phone driving ordinance, with the police stating to city council that it would provoke “bad public relations” on Dec. 15, 2009.

State of Illinois Cell Phone Bans

An estimated 19,540 warnings and citations have been issued by Illinois State Police since the state enacted its first distracted driving law on Jan. 1, 2010.

Distracted driving prohibition currently includes the following:

• Drivers may not use text messaging, emailing, Internet or related usages.
• Drivers may not use cell phones in construction zones, at locations of road maintenance, or school zones.
• Drivers who are 18 and younger may not use any wireless phones, including hands-free devices.

State of Illinois Legislation History

The Illinois House and Senate ordered a Department of Transportation study of cell phone distractions and subsequent vehicular accidents in 2006, resulting in the following legislation:

-In 2007, a hands-free cell phone bill was killed in the House.

-A 2008 law requiring hands-free devices on cell phones for adult drivers in was killed by Rep. William Black, (R-Danfield), in March of that same year.

-The House legislation outlawing texting in Illinois for motorists was approved by a landslide vote of 45-6 in the Senate, and 89-27 in the House. In addition, a House resolution was passed on May 31, 2011 which allows Illinois law enforcement officials to track cell phone usage in vehicle accidents. Those results will be included in two-year study designed to determine cell phone usage dangers while driving.

The cell phone and text messaging legislation for 2012 includes:

-Senate Bill 3537 was written to provide general distracted driving prohibition. The legislation includes all uses of “wireless telephone or other electronic communication devices,” emailing, texting, eating and grooming. In order to be cited, another offense must be committed by violators while distracted.

-The SB 3663 (similar to HB 1984 of 2011 and 5099) bans the use of cell phones within 500 feet of any emergency scene. The bill was approved by the House Transportation Committee as of Feb. 29.

-On February 8, HB 3970 was approved and amended by the Transportation, Vehicles and Safety Committee through a voice vote. On February 21, this legislation was amended by to exempt specifically citizens band and two-way radio devices. In May, the bill was amended to include outlawing handheld communications devices while driving, including cell phones, but not hands-free operation. This legislation is scheduled for a third House reading in the future.

- House Bill 3972 prohibits drivers to use handheld electronic devices, including cell phones. Voice operated and hands-free devices are not included. Fines begin at $75, followed by $100, $125, and finally, $150.

-Also in May, HB 4009 was proposed to adjust highway work zones in connection preexisting cell phone bans.

-HB 5099 (similar to HB 1984 and 3663) includes banning cell phone use within 500 feet of any emergency scene, but exempts reporting of these situations. Digital photo and video aspects were added to the definition of what is deemed an electronic message.

-HB 5325 concerns drivers under the age of 18 violating text-messaging laws by canceling licenses and permits. Those violating the laws will have to wait six months before reapplying, or until they become 18 years of age.

-The bill concerning speed zones, construction, and street maintenance, HB 5863, would be adjusted to apply to only when there are workers present. The bill also allows cell phone usage while drivers experience traffic jams due to construction.

City of Chicago Cell Phone Bans

An estimated 23,300 tickets were issued in Chicago during 2010 for using handheld cell phones. The number of citations has gone up 73 percent since the first year of the ban, 2006.

In the City of Chicago, the start of the cell phone driving ban in the summer of 2005. Subsequently, in October 2008, the text-messaging ban was added. Following that, on January 1, 2008, SB 140 prohibited school bus and young drivers from using their cell phones while driving.  Drivers in Chicago can only use hands-free cell phones and cannot text message while operating a vehicle. Fines are assessed for these infractions ranging from $100 (increased from $20) to $500. In July, 2008, a legal challenge to the City of Chicago’s new law was dismissed after an attorney attempted to void all tickets and return fines. At that time, the judge ruled that city street safety was enough justification for the ordinance. Violations for this ordinance brought fines of $75.

City of Chicago Driving and Cell Phone Fines

Drivers in Chicago may only use hands-free cell phones and may not text message while operating a vehicle. Fines are assessed for these infractions are as follows:

• As of February, 11, 2009, fines for driving while using handheld cell phones were increased by the City Council panel to $100, up from $75.
• Drivers involved in vehicle crashes while using cell phones will be fined $500, an increase from $200, which took effect on February 21, 2009.

Bicycle Cell Phone Bans

Chicago bicyclists may not use cell phones or text while riding equipment as of November, 2011. This legislation was enacted after Alderman Marge Laurino’s plan was quickly approved through the Chicago City Council as of Oct. 5, 2011. However, bicyclists are allowed to use hands-free devices, as are those driving vehicles. The intent behind the legislation was to level the playing field with other drivers, banned from talking on cell phones without hands-free devices, or texting within city limits. Fines for these bicycle infractions include:

• $20 to $50 for first offenses;
• Up to $100 for third violations; and
• Up to $500 if an accident occurs.

Distracted Driving Activism

The state of Illinois began a new “Drive Now Text Later” campaign in 2011. Campaign organizers based their information on a survey which suggested that up to 40 percent of all drivers on the Illinois Tollway were not aware that texting while driving was illegal on state highways and roads. Community action has been swift in the city of Chicago against distracted driving. One of the City of Chicago’s most influential people, Oprah Winfrey, began a No Phone Zone Pledge on January 18, 2009. The pledge encouraged people to end distracted driving through committing to drive responsibly, refraining from texting and only using hands-free cell phone devices.

Recently, the advent of the FocusDriven Organization. The National Safety Council, along with the U.S. Department of Transportation hosted the Illinois Distracted Driving Summit on April 21, 2011. Department of Transportation Chief Ray LaHood cited the city’s efforts against distracted driving which is responsible for much of the current pending legislation concerning cell phone usage in vehicles. The FocusDriven movement is encouraging distracted driving families and friends to hold their own conferences within their communities.

Illinois residents who lost loved ones in distracted driving-related accidents can post temporary highway memorials as of Jan. 1, 2011. Originally the law allowed for memorials only when drunken drivers were to blame.

Due to the severity of the distracted driving issue, Chicago council members have offered a proposal to require that cell phones in the city be equipped with software preventing their use while driving. The reason for the complete ban on cell phone usage while driving appears to be that there is believed to be no difference between whether a person is either holding a phone or not. The issue appears to be distracted driving, more than anything else. As a result of this belief, Illinois is well on its way to banning the use of all cell phones by drivers at all times. 

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