Editorial | State getting a little tougher on distracted driving

Editorial | State getting a little tougher on distracted driving

A new state law that won't go into effect for almost a year will make it more difficult on motorists who text while driving.

Currently, a motorist's first offense for texting while driving is a non-moving violation. After July 1, 2019, it will become a moving violation. That could hurt violators in the pocketbook, and more than just the $75 fine.

People who text while driving — and federal statistics based on observations say that is approximately 2 percent of all drivers — have about 10 months to become accustomed to a tougher Illinois law.

Starting July 1, 2019, the penalty for first-time offenders who are caught texting while driving will become a moving violation. It is now classified as a non-moving violation, which means it does not go on a driver's record.

With the change, texting while driving as a first offense could lead to a license suspension if it is one of three moving violations in a 12-month period.

But the real hammer in the legislation that Gov. Bruce Rauner signed last week and had been pushed by Secretary of State Jesse White is that making texting while driving a moving violation on the first offense should mean higher insurance premiums, usually at least 10 percent greater.

"This important legislation will make our roads safer. No driver should be texting while driving," White said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 3,500 people were killed in 2015 in vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, and nearly 400,000 were injured in such accidents.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated and that at least 25 percent of police-reported crashes involve some type of distracted driving.

Distracted driving is one of the many negative side effects of a society that has rapidly and increasingly become connected to social media. It was eight years ago that Illinois passed its first law, prompted by the death of bicyclist Matthew Wilhelm in a traffic accident just outside Urbana, that made it illegal to text or access a website while driving. At the time of Mr. Wilhelm's death, there was no state law that specifically banned texting while driving.

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