Des Plaines Police Chief James Prandini says it's tough to justify strict enforcement of a traffic law he believes few drivers know about.
That explains why Des Plaines police officers have yet to issue a moving violation on Illinois' revamped crosswalk law since it took effect in July 2010.
Des Plaines is not alone. Only one police department in a sampling of seven suburbs within the Daily Herald's coverage area has reached double digits for tickets issued. Suburbs with Metra stops, downtown districts or notable shopping areas were selected for the sampling. Under the law, drivers must stop -- not just yield the right of way when necessary, as previously required -- for pedestrians in all crosswalks. The law applies even if there are no traffic signals, stop signs or clearly defined crosswalk markings.
For their part, pedestrians cannot suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and get in the path of a moving vehicle, according to the law. Proponents hailed the law as a boost for pedestrian safety, but Prandini is unsure about that stance.
"Exercise as much caution as if the law isn't in effect," the chief said.
Prandini said the state needs to install more signs at crosswalks warning drivers to halt for pedestrians, or launch a visible campaign to increase awareness of the law. He said it's difficult to ticket a driver on a busy state road, such as Northwest Highway, if there isn't a proper alert to stop for a pedestrian waiting at a crosswalk.
"I want to be fair to the motorists as well as be fair to the pedestrians," Prandini said.
A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation said new signs have been popping up, although he did not provide an exact number. The agency didn't address the possibility of a public information campaign.
"Since the new law went into effect, the Illinois Department of Transportation has changed signs along state routes telling motorists to stop for pedestrians," spokesman Guy Tridgell said. "We believe it is important for law enforcement to enforce the new rules, as is the case with all traffic laws."
Grace Clarke of Arlington Heights and Larisa Flink of Buffalo Grove are among the drivers who say they've never heard about the updated crosswalk law. Clarke said the law should be publicized in some fashion, while Flink doesn't think the law is necessary.
"Come on, who needs it?" she said.
Jerry Kolar of Gurnee said he became familiar with the crosswalk law through news articles last year, but he believes it won't be effective until there is fresh pavement striping in designated pedestrian areas. He added the law should be scrapped if police don't enforce it.
R.T. Finney, who heads the Illinois Chiefs of Police Association, said more education, improved crosswalk striping, signs and increased enforcement are needed. Finney is police chief in Champaign, which has small, brightly colored signs alerting drivers to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks in the city's downtown area.
A few communities, such as Wauconda, have taken that step, and Police Chief Doug Larsson said the signs have had the desired effect to prod drivers into being mostly compliant in halting for pedestrians. Wauconda's signs are near crosswalks and situated off curbs.
"I am definitely in favor of those signs," Larsson said.
Finney said police manpower and priorities dictate the law's enforcement level.
"We need a large push on the education of this law," he said. "Part of that is enforcing it."
In the Daily Herald's informal survey of the suburban police departments, Mundelein led the pack with 17 tickets issued to drivers accused of crosswalk violations from July 2010 through mid-August 2011. That was followed by Schaumburg with nine, Naperville at six, St. Charles and Arlington Heights at four, Libertyville with one and Des Plaines at zero.
Of Mundelein's 17 moving violations, records show 11 came in September 2010 when special sting operations were conducted. Mundelein police issued another news release calling attention to the law in July.
Libertyville Police Chief Clint Herdegen said village officers have focused on educating drivers who were in potential violation of the law, which largely is why only one ticket has been issued so far. The moving violation went to a motorist accused of striking a pedestrian in a crosswalk at Route 176 and Brainerd Avenue.
Herdegen said signs soon will go up warning drivers to halt for pedestrians in the crosswalks near downtown Libertyville's Metra stations. He said the village also intends to call attention to the law in its next newsletter and on its website.
"I don't know that it is hard to enforce," Herdegen said. "We have asked officers to be mindful of the crosswalk law."
Chicago-based Active Transportation Alliance pushed for the strengthened crosswalk law.
The organization's mission includes advocating for transportation that encourages safety, physical activity, health and recreation. Dan Persky, the transportation group's director of education and public affairs, said the lack of tickets issued in the seven suburbs was surprising to him. He said the law ultimately should be judged by whether there is a reduction in the number of pedestrians struck by vehicles annually, not tickets issued.
On average, at least 6,000 Illinois pedestrians are hit by vehicles annually, according to IDOT.
Statistics show there typically are 1,000 serious injuries and 170 fatalities yearly.
Persky said he still believes the law is good, and the organization is working with IDOT and Cook County to install more signs alerting motorists to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.
He said California, Massachusetts and other states have crosswalk laws similar to the one in Illinois.
"It's been very successful in the states that adopted it before us," Persky said.
But critics, such as Republican state Sen. Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington, remain.
Duffy voted against the crosswalk law and still contends it creates false safety expectations for pedestrians. He said the law is redundant because motorists never have been allowed to crash into pedestrians, and spending state money on signs doesn't make financial sense.
"The state of Illinois doesn't have any money," he said.