I showed up for a discussion on distracted driving and left with my head buzzing over a host of other safety issues.
It was Secretary of State Jesse White's Advisory Committee on Traffic Safety meeting Thursday -- transportation wonks from the state and federal governments with a dash of Northwestern University and a soupçon of the National Safety Council thrown in.
Train fare 411Don't forget: Metra's raising fares Feb. 1. To eliminate hoarding, 10-ride and one-way tickets purchased through Jan. 31 are valid only through Feb. 29. Monthly passes will increase by 29 percent and 10-ride tickets will jump by 30 percent.
Here's what could be on the legislative menu in 2012.
• Requiring helmets for motorcycle riders and passengers.
• Banning drivers from using hand-held cellphones.
• Tightening the penalties for misuse of disabled parking placards and licenses. (Yes, apparently, we have a problem with people using dead relatives' disabled parking placards.)
• Eliminating a loophole allowing 18-year-olds to obtain a license without any formal driver's ed classes.
• Upping the age teens can apply for learners' permits from 15 to 16 and strengthening nighttime restrictions.
• Cracking down on repeat offenders caught driving without insurance and driving on a suspended license.
These should pass easily (not). I foresee pushback aplenty for the helmet law and cellphone ban, at least.
But it was a fascinating discussion and we'll see what happens once the Springfield sausage-making ensues.
State Rep. John D'Amico, a Chicago Democrat, says he's concerned that 18-year-olds can obtain licenses without any driver's education experience. His idea would be to require them to participate in an online driver education course.
D'Amico also is sponsoring a more controversial proposal for a total ban on driving and talking on a hand-held phone.
The state currently prohibits texting or other electronic uses while driving, plus it's illegal for motorists to talk on a cellphone while in a construction or school zone.
Police are finding, however, that's it's hard to catch texting drivers and the effort requires significant manpower.
With a more comprehensive ban in place, "this will help enforce the texting bill," D'Amico said.
I asked D'Amico about the chances of his cellphone legislation passing, especially in an election year when lawmakers are skittish.
"Time will tell," he said. "There's a lot of momentum but time will tell. When the texting law passed there were 27 'no' votes. If we introduced it today, I don't know if anyone would vote against it."
Meanwhile, National Safety Council Vice President John Ulczycki thinks 2012 should be the year motorcyclists in Illinois are required to wear helmets. Headgear saves lives and insurance costs for taxpayers, he thinks.
"Illinois is only one out of three states without helmet laws," Ulczycki said.
Switching gears, Ulczycki's concerned that drivers caught behind the wheel with suspended or revoked licenses are often repeat offenders. "The recidivism is very high," Ulczycki said.
• One interesting take-away came from Northwestern University Center for Public Safety Director David Bradford, who noted that cuts in municipal and state governments are reducing the time police spend on traffic investigations. The economic situation is "directing attention away from traffic enforcement and investigations," Bradford said.
Speaking of distracted driving, I've been on the receiving end of dozens of thought-provoking emails.
Sarah Solak Arlington Heights writes, "upon realizing how dangerous distracted driving really can be, I have made an effort to not be talking on the cellphone while I am driving. If there was a law against ANY cellphone usage, I would no longer be tempted to every once in a while answer a call. If it would be against the law, I would abide by that. And many others would as well.
"In addition, I think that it would give employees the freedom to not have to answer their phones when driving.
"On the other hand, I do not favor more control by the government. It is a very slippery slope. If we relinquish this, what will be next?
"Of course, then you face the larger question: is it worth relinquishing that right if it means at least one life can be saved?"
And Rick Krywokulski writes, "being in the transportation field for over 32 years and having seen many changes to improve safety in vehicles -- I have never seen such a step back in safety as the use of cellphones and texting while driving.
"As the safety manager (at Glen Ellyn Storage Corp.) we have a no-cellphone policy for all our drivers while driving and have for a couple of years. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has also enacted a new law that went into effect Jan. 1 that bans all use of hand-held cellphones while operating a commercial vehicle. This ban will certainly make our roads much safer for all the motoring public and we support this legislation.
"I do have one concern that I see too often: the use of laptops and many other electronic items that our law enforcement officers are required to use to perform their duties while driving. I understand that these devices are all for the public good and these are trained professional drivers, but they are no different from any other professional driver in the transportation industry.
"My point is that we value these professionals whether they be police officers or truck drivers and care about their safety and urge their administrators to at least look at restriction of their equipment while operating their vehicle, also. A distracted driver is no different because he is law officer or fireman."
One more thing
Metra finalized hiring three top administrators Friday. They include Chief Audit and Compliance Officer Rick Capra, who will get a salary of $150,000; Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Robert Carlton, who will be paid $145,000; and Senior Director of Labor Relations Jeff Barton, whose salary will be $115,000. Officials said the chief audit officer will report directly to the board. Regarding the communications chief -- a new position -- Metra CEO Alex Clifford called it a necessary addition as the agency puts an emphasis on communications.
Pace holds a public hearing from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday on eliminating midday service on Bus Route 550 Big Timber -- North Randall. The changes would affect buses operating between 9:45 a.m. and 3:13 p.m. Ridership is low on Route 550 during those times, Pace officials said. The hearing is at the Centre of Elgin, 100 Symphony Way, Elgin.
As of Sunday, Metra tweaked schedules on the Union Pacific North and Union Pacific West lines. In most cases the changes are one to five minutes -- but if you're a last-minute sprint to the coffee stand type, better check metrarail.com.