20 tickets issued in Champaign County in first weeks of cellphone law
While the new state law banning the use of handheld devices while driving has been in effect since Jan. 1, only a handful of drivers have been ticketed in Champaign County.
Through the first six weeks of the year, 20 people received citations in the county for using electronic communication devices while behind the wheel, said Champaign County Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman.
The top enforcer of the new law was the Urbana Police Department, which issued six tickets. Champaign police ticketed five drivers, Illinois State police four, the University of Illinois and Mahomet police two apiece.
The Champaign County sheriff's office ticketed one person in Savoy.
"Because this is a newer law, most officers are treating these stops as educational and issuing warning tickets rather than issuing a state citation," said UI Police Captain Roy Acree. "As time goes by, we anticipate the number of citations to increase."
Violators can face fines starting at $75.
Drivers can still gab on the go — but only if they use equipment with hands-free technology. Now against the law: driving while using hand-held wireless telephones, digital assistants or computers.
State Trooper Tracy Lillard isn't surprised by the small number of tickets locally — "considering the unpredictable weather conditions that have contributed to hazardous road conditions facing motorists to reduce speeds."
"We should also consider that many motorists may be adhering to the law," she said.
Across Illinois, Lillard said, state police issued 744 distracted driving citations and 1,098 distracted driving written warnings between Jan. 1 and Feb. 19.
Closer to home in District 10, state police report high compliance levels on those few days when driving hasn't been affected by snow and ice. (District 10 includes Champaign, Coles, Douglas, Edgar, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt, Shelby and Vermilion counties).
"We will continue to adequately educate our communities and aggressively enforce this new law as we aim to make our roadways safer," said Jamal Simington, District 10's interim commander. "We ask drivers to make a pledge to do their part and follow the hands-free law 100 percent of the time."
That goal may prove to be out of reach, said Acree.
"We will never get to the point in our society where we will get 100 percent compliance," he said. "People will continue to answer their texts and cellphone calls while they are driving out of habit and just hope they will not get caught."
Lt. Robert Fitzgerald said Urbana police have issued some warnings — rather than write tickets — to give "everyone time to get acclimated to the change."
More written warnings may turn into $75 tickets in the days, weeks and months ahead.
In Urbana, Fitzgerald said police will conduct traffic enforcement details in March in "high-volume areas" — partly to educate, partly to enforce.
Said Acree: "I would estimate by 2015 you will see a steady increase in the number of citations being issued."