New laws '14: Cellphones while driving

New laws '14: Cellphones while driving

Area drivers used to multitasking while behind the wheel will need to peel their cellphones from their ears beginning Wednesday. That’s when a new state law banning the use of handheld devices while driving goes into effect.

Those who break the law could face fines starting at $75.

“Distracted driving is a problem,” said Champaign Deputy Police Chief Joe Gallo. “If this law can reduce some accidents, it certainly won’t hurt.”

Urbana police Lt. Bryant Seraphin said the new law is “very simple” ­— drivers can still gab on the go if they use equipment that incorporates hands-free technology; they cannot operate a motor vehicle using hand-held wireless telephones, hand-held personal digital assistants or portable mobile computers.

“At the end of the day,” Seraphin said, “if you put a device up to your ear, you are going to have problems.”

“Our goal is to have everyone arrive at their destination alive and well,” said Trooper Tracy Lillard of the Illinois State Police. “Please remember to slow down, buckle up, avoid distractions, and don’t drink and drive.”


Hands-free is OK

The law does include exceptions that allow drivers to make calls if they use certain technologies.

“Specifically, the driver using the electronic communication device needs to be in a ‘hands-free’ or ‘voice-operated’ mode, which may include the use of a headset,” Lillard said.

However, such headsets may only cover one ear.

Seraphin said the law also provides exceptions for GPS systems and navigation systems, such as TomToms and Garmins.

Since the law prohibits cellphone use only by drivers, passengers in vehicles are free to use these devices to read emails or watch YouTube videos as a vehicle moves.

“But remember: The viewing of electronic devices within the vehicle is still illegal for drivers,” Lillard said. 


You can be pulled over

Police officers won’t need a separate violation in order to pull you over for using a cellphone.

“This is a primary offense,” Seraphin said. “If you are a driver with a phone up against your ear, that is a violation of the law.” 

Motorists found violating the law will be given traffic tickets, just like for speeding. Fines can be as high as $75 for the first offense and as much as $150 for repeated offenses, Lillard noted. That’s in addition to a moving violation being added to their driving records.

Three moving violations within a year can lead to the suspension of driving privileges.

And starting Wednesday, drivers who injure others in traffic crashes involving the use of a cellphone or other electronic device could face a Class A misdemeanor charge, which could lead to fines of up to $2,500 and less than a year of jail time.

Drivers involved with fatal crashes involving the use of a cellphone or other electronic device could be charged with a Class 4 felony, which carries fines of up to $25,000 and up to three years in jail.


Watching for violators

Seraphin said motorists in Urbana don’t have to worry about police using electronic devices to detect whether a cellphone is in use.

“There are not any electronic James Bond spy devices to tell us whether a cellphone is being used in a vehicle,” Seraphin said. “At the end of the day, police officers will detect cellphone use by watching to see if a phone is up against the ear of a driver.”

Seraphin said Urbana police might use the same method it has during seat-belt details.

“We have someone in plain clothes looking to see if seat belts are being used, and the information is relayed to the patrol officers,” he said. “Something like that might be a possibility for checking on cellphone use.”

Meanwhile, Champaign police will have discretion as to whether to issue a ticket or a warning, Gallo said.

“We have already been enforcing the law against using cellphones in school zones,” Gallo said.

While the state police aren’t specifying how they plan to enforce the cellphone law, Lillard said “officer discretion will be used.”

Authorities aren’t counting on AT&T, Verizon and the like to help compile evidence against routine violators of the law. 

State police, however, can obtain cellphone records in the event of a crash or significant incident, especially those resulting in great bodily harm or death, Lillard said.

“The information from the cellphone can be downloaded for purposes of the investigation,” he said. “The driver may also give consent. If no consent is given, the cellphone may be held by police until a warrant is obtained.”


In case of emergency

What about the use of cellphones for nontalking applications? For example, many drivers use smartphone apps as GPS devices to help them find locations.

“If a driver is using a smartphone for the purpose of a navigation device, the navigation device needs to be in voice mode,” Lillard said. “Touching the screen and recalculating routes while driving is illegal.”

Police will, however, make exceptions in emergency situations ­— to report a fire, an accident or worse. 

“For example,” Seraphin said, “if your daughter is attacked and she is taken hostage by a bad guy and you call 911, that would be an appropriate use of the phone.”

In addition, Lillard said, drivers who pull over to use their phone while parked on the shoulder of a roadway are not in violation.

“However, motorists should only use the shoulder of an interstate highway for emergency stopping only, not for making cellphone calls,” she said.

Lillard anticipates that driver’s education classes in area schools will teach students about the new law.

But teenagers aren’t the only ones who need to be educated when it comes to the topic.

“The bottom line is people need to pay attention when they are driving, whether it be using a cellphone or eating or doing something else,” said University of Illinois Police Lt. Matt Myrick. “Usually when a driver is distracted, that’s when bad things happen.”

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sweet caroline wrote on December 29, 2013 at 11:12 am

“If a driver is using a smartphone for the purpose of a navigation device, the navigation device needs to be in voice mode,” Lillard said. “Touching the screen and recalculating routes while driving is illegal.”

It's about time.  I see people all the time driving while simultaneously messing with their navigation devices that are on the dash.  Recently, I was in back of a driver who was swerving all over the road.  When I was finally able to pass him (which was dangerous enough), I saw that he was entering information into the dashboard navigation device. 

Jam wrote on December 29, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Just a small point.  I have seen many times cell phones being used by the police in a moving patrol car.   They should not be exempt from this in my humble opinion.

LocalTownie wrote on December 30, 2013 at 10:12 am

I always hate when we have more laws imposed on us for things that should be common sense but I guess this one isn't too bad. People need to get off the phone, period. I'm so tired of seeing people driving all over town, the interstate, literally flying through parking lots, all while on their phone.

In regards to in-dash navigation - don't most if not all prevent you from entering info or making changes while not in park? The only thing I can do in my vehicle is zoom the map out which is one tap on the screen. I'm talking about the navigation built into a vehicle, not the kind suctioned to the windshield.

If we're going to outlaw navgivation device use while driving maybe we should outlaw paper maps, try folding one of those things while driving!

As far as police using cell phones, etc. how else do you expect them to be dispatched? I say let them use the phone/radio/whatever tool they need. I just want them to get where they are needed. Obviously you aren't going to have an officer twirling their hair with one hand, holding the phone with the other hand, while steering with their knee.

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 30, 2013 at 10:12 am

It would be so much easier if people just followed the laws instead of complaining about others violating the laws.  Get the law changed, or modified if there is the need to do so; but complaining about it now is kicking a dead horse.  I thought that the $1500 fine for the disposing of a cigarette butt on the street was excessive; but I will comply with it.

Mr Dreamy wrote on December 30, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Sid, please notice that it's not just a $1500 fine, it's up to 6 months in jail, and a 3rd offense is a FELONY with up to 3 years in prison, not your local jail.

highspeed wrote on December 30, 2013 at 4:12 pm

More laws that will be hard to enforce. I guess that`s why they call themselves "lawmakers" 

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 31, 2013 at 9:12 am

Thanks for the additional info, Mr. Dreamy.  It does get confusing.  If someone spits out their gum on a street; is the fine, and the time the same as if it were a cigarette butt? 

In Singapore; there are fines for littering any items, and not flushing public toliets.  Sounds like a great revenue creator for government enities if it included all litter.  Well, the anti-smoking patrols will be driving past the bars tomorrow reporting butt litterers on their cell phones.

serf wrote on December 31, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Hate to ruin the fun, but all that happened regarding the cigarettes was the legislature explicitly added the word 'cigarettes' into the definition of litter, as defined by the Litter Control Act (which has been on the books for decades).  It's fun to get all angry, like we're living in a dictatorial regime, but the reality is they are just cleaning up language. 

It's been illegal to litter for decades, folks.  


Sid Saltfork wrote on January 01, 2014 at 9:01 am

Thanks for explaining it, serf.  I should go back to the State Farm arena, and pick up my ashtray refuse this morning.  It was a one last time, futile act of defiance.  One of many one last time, futile acts last night.

"Do be a good bee, don't be a bad bee.  Do not litter."  

Bulldogmojo wrote on January 02, 2014 at 9:01 am

So if I take a photo while driving with my cellphone of someone texting while driving to get the crimestoppers reward money does that invalidate my illegal use of my phone to catch them? ;P