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updated: 7/11/2011 7:34 AM

Keeping eyes on road harder than it seems

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  • Texting while driving is against the law in Illinois - and perhaps soon nationally, if one congresswoman gets her way - but that didn't stop dozens of drivers in Naperville from doing it, according to one high school class' study.

      Texting while driving is against the law in Illinois - and perhaps soon nationally, if one congresswoman gets her way - but that didn't stop dozens of drivers in Naperville from doing it, according to one high school class' study.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer


Forgive me readers, for I have sinned.

Freaked out by a seminar on distracted driving and the frightening number of deaths and injuries it causes, I promised to put down the cellphone and concentrate on the road.

"I intend to spend the rest of the year focusing on the road -- no cellphone calls, no powdering my nose, no distractions. Will you do the same?," I wrote on May 16.

Did I fulfill that vow? Not so much.

Since pledging to clean up my act, I've talked to my boss and co-workers and yelled at my better half on the cellphone, craned my neck to check on the baby, surfed radio channels and dug in my bag for pens and lipstick while driving.

I think the low point was talking to a Union Pacific official and writing down notes while speeding along on the day Union Pacific scheduling errors canceled morning Metra trains.

All this despite the fact nearly 6,000 people died in 2010 as a result of a distracted driver.

But it's a fresh week -- and I'm going to try again. Wish me luck.

And if Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy has her way, a law instead of willpower will help stop drivers from texting, yakking and updating Facebook on the phone.

The Long Island, N.Y., Democrat introduced legislation June 29 that would essentially ban drivers nationwide from the use of hand-held mobile devices, from cellphones to BlackBerries.

Not sure how that's going to fly considering there was a significant lobby that pushed back against an Illinois law banning texting while driving. Right now, McCarthy, a retired nurse, is looking around for co-sponsors -- no takers from Illinois yet, her staff reported. But interestingly, Verizon Wireless came out in support of the policy, the Safe Drivers Act of 2011.

You should know

Speaking of distracted driving, Naperville North High School statistics students had a hands-on lesson last month observing driving behaviors at Ogden Avenue and Mill Road.

Out of 3,228 vehicles, they saw 172 drivers talking on phones and 51 texting, teacher Hiram Baird said. "I try to show them how statistics are related to their lives," he said.

One number that caught students' attention was the 51 texting drivers, which is against Illinois law.

Among the offenders were people driving commercial vehicles.

"It was surprising to see employees breaking the law while on their jobs," junior Anderson Tien said.

Your voice

Everyone has an opinion on proposed legislation allowing increases in truck weight limits. One of the most eloquent letters came from Maureen Mann of Lindenhurst. Her brother-in-law, Kevin Stutson, was killed in 2007 when debris from a truck hit his car while on Route 59 in Bartlett, she said.

"Such a loss," Mann wrote. "(He was) only 51; we miss him every day. I cringe when I see trucks with loads piled high above the truck with no covers for fear of it happening again as it has before on the same road. I hope this does not pass and that there would be something put in place to make sure all loads are covered and the weight limit is not raised. This all takes extra time and money, but isn't it more important to make sure an accident like this doesn't happen to another family? Our priority should be safety, not saving money."

Coming soon

Got a nagging worry your child safety seat isn't 100 percent secure? Get it checked out Saturday at the Illinois Tollway's Family Safety Fair. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the tollway headquarters, 2700 Ogden Ave., Downers Grove. It features safety-seat inspections and installation help along with free kids' identification cards. There's also exhibits by the Chicago Fire, Radio Disney, the DuPage Children's Museum and K-9 demonstrations.

One more thing

As Metra looks at offering Wi-Fi on its trains, officials clarified that the service won't necessarily be free for riders. A new law requires Metra to provide Wi-Fi by January 2012, provided it comes at no cost to the agency. It also mandates that the Regional Transportation Authority study the feasibility of instituting Wi-Fi on Metra, Pace and the CTA.

Metra is looking at proposals from companies interested in installing Wi-Fi gratis, spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said. In return, the company may be allowed to advertise on trains as a trade-off.

As far as passengers go, there could be a small subscriber fee in order to access the Wi-Fi system, Pardonnet said, adding there's a lot of options. "Wi-Fi (on public transit) is an evolving field."

Gridlock alert

This is big if you drive through northeast DuPage: Westbound Irving Park Road will be closed from Taft to east of York Road from 9 p.m. Friday to 4 a.m. July 18. The detour will be from Mannheim Road to Higgins Road to Touhy Avenue to York Road.

Don't forget!

It's the In Transit Road Trip Song Contest! Among the entries so far: "Born to be Wild," "Route 66" and "Radar Love." Rock on and get your submission in soon. Email me at Please include the song, musician and why it's the best road trip song ever. The winner gets a fabulous prize and eternal fame.