Tougher distracted-driving laws in works
In 2003, when then-state Rep. John Millner attempted to pass legislation curbing all types of distracted driving across Illinois, he nearly won a dubious honor.
A huge gag trophy is awarded to lawmakers with bills garnering 100 "no" votes or more, recalled Millner, now a state senator.
The Carol Stream Republican pulled the bill but he's ready for another try this year -- part of a bipartisan effort to reduce injuries and deaths caused by drivers who take their eyes off the wheel.
The issue is timely with a December National Transportation and Safety Board recommendation to ban drivers from using any type of cellphone.
Millner's proposal would allow police to issue two tickets to motorists who commit a traffic violation while engaged in distracted driving, which would include everything from eating to talking on a cellphone to applying makeup. One ticket would be for the traffic offense and the second would be for distracted driving.
"I want people to be aware this is an issue," Millner said, "that it's easier for law enforcement to catch you now. I hope it will save people from being injured or killed."
Currently, the state bans drivers from sending texts or other electronic messages and using a cellphone in a school or construction zone.
But police officials find the texting law hard to enforce and safety experts say a more comprehensive approach is necessary. A recent Daily Herald investigation found a minimal number of texting citations in the suburbs compared to speeding violations.
Distracted driving-related crashes claimed the lives of 5,474 people in 2009 and caused injuries to 448,000 people, according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Chicago Democrat John D'Amico is in a different party and chamber of the legislature than Millner, but he's backed anti-distracted-driving laws in the past and intends to do so in the upcoming session.
D'Amico said he's looking at a statewide ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving, which is already in place in Chicago, several suburbs, and a number of other states.
"There obviously will be some opposition. It will not be a small task," D'Amico said. "But there is a lot of support to do it as well -- I can't tell you how many communities have reached out to get this bill passed."
In the meantime, a group including representatives from the Illinois secretary of state's office, the General Assembly, and police will start meetings this month to consider new safety measures, including distracted driving, D'Amico said.
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