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posted: 1/2/2014 7:48 AM

Editorial: Safety, responsibility get boost in new laws

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Comparisons are always dangerous when it comes to something as broad as state law, but it is likely that no law among those taking effect in Illinois this week will have a more direct or a more practical impact on individual safety than that prohibiting the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.

We've campaigned for legislation like this for years, and, amid a body of research suggesting that any cellphone use by drivers -- hand-held or hands-free -- is dangerous, we'll be watching to see whether Illinois' ban goes far enough. But while we await that verdict, it's still worth acknowledging that the law taking effect is a significant step in the right direction.

Habits do not change easily, we know. But we hope that you've been paying attention to the outcries in recent years about the dangers of cellphone use while driving and have already been adapting your habits to eliminate the need to chat, blabber or even conduct business when you should be focusing all your attention on the road in front of you. If you haven't yet, you have no choice now. If you get a ticket -- much less caused or gotten into an accident -- expect no sympathy from us.

And Jan. 1 also marks the beginning for a variety of additional new laws. Some of them may have an immediate impact on you, some may be more indirect. But whichever is the case, many deserve your special attention.

If you're 17 years old but will turn 18 before November, you should take immediate action on one of them. That is the law allowing you to vote in the spring primary if you'll be eligible to vote in the November general election. Voting is one of the most important privileges -- and duties -- of adulthood; don't wait to begin exercising it.

Teenagers also are the focus of another law taking effect, though this has more to do with transitioning to adulthood than with embracing it. Still, permitting teenagers younger than 18 charged with non-violent felonies to be tried as juveniles may have a meaningful impact on getting them ready to accept the privileges and responsibilities of adulthood.

And one final note for 17-year-olds, or anyone younger: You'll have to wait until you're 18 to use a tanning bed. Considering the cancer risk of tanning beds regardless of age, use that extra year to think seriously about just how important it really is to bake to that extra shade of bronze.

Speaking of thinking twice, we're not sure of the direct impact from a new law permitting loss of a roadway driver's license for people convicted of operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but at the very least, the threat should give drinking boaters pause to consider more responsible, safer behavior.

Finally, we have to express some appreciation for a new law imposing graduated penalties leading up to a felony for multiple violations when smokers flick their cigarette butts on the ground. It's not exactly a safety issue, but it should surely help the visual pollution.

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