Illinois police cracking down on new crosswalk law
Mundelein police officer Jake Anderson is cautious on this afternoon, looking both ways on Butterfield Road before he begins walking from an apartment complex to shops across the street.
Anderson uses a marked crosswalk that has a neon-green sign with flashing lights to warn motorists about pedestrians. Still, he's forced to stop in the middle of the four-lane road when two cars zip by on northbound Butterfield near Route 45.
But one of the drivers is in for a surprise. Anderson, working a special detail, radios to officer Tom Hall, who's in a nearby squad car and pulls over the driver for what police say is a violation of Illinois' new crosswalk law.
"Obviously, the public safety is what we're here to do, Mundelein police Cmdr. Don Hansen said as he supervises the sting.
Under the law effective since July 1, 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.
When the uniformed Anderson started crossing Butterfield Road, the law required traffic on the near and far sides of him to stop once he safely entered the street.
Penalties vary by county for drivers guilty of a crosswalk violation. Fines and court costs may be assessed.
Critics and proponents agree it's likely that most drivers are unaware of the three-month-old law. Supporters say public education and police crackdowns will be needed to get motorists in tune with it.
Republican state Sen. Dan Duffy, of Lake Barrington, voted against the crosswalk law and remains a critic, saying not enough thought went into it and that it may create false safety expectations for pedestrians. He said he also is concerned increased rear-end collisions will occur from drivers suddenly braking for pedestrians entering a crosswalk.
Duffy said drivers already were required to allow pedestrians the right of way. The crosswalk effort amounted to adding one law on top of another, he said.
"That's another sting operation for people to make money for towns, said Duffy, who's also been a red-light camera critic.
Chicago-based Active Transportation Alliance pushed for the new law. Dan Persky, the group's director of education and public affairs, said much work must be done to make it effective.
"It'll take time to change motorists' behavior, but again, we'll do that through ... encouragement, education, enforcement and engineering strategies, said Persky, whose organization's mission includes advocating for transportation that encourages safety, physical activity, health and recreation.
Active Transportation Alliance didn't cite a specific incident in seeking the tighter crosswalk regulations, but pointed to Illinois Department of Transportation statistics showing more than 6,000 pedestrians are hit by cars statewide each year. Of those, about 170 on average are killed and 1,000 seriously injured.
Persky said police stings are just one way to get drivers' attention about the need to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.
Changes also will be pursued for high school driver's education curriculum to include information about the crosswalk law. Persky soon will present the idea at regional workshops for the Illinois High School & College Driver Education Association.
Glen Ellyn, Hoffman Estates, Elgin, Winnetka and Des Plaines are among the suburbs listed by Active Transportation Alliance as trying to create awareness of the law. Winnetka has altered crosswalk pole signs by replacing a yield image with a stop.
In Elgin, the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee helped to lobby for the new law. Paul Bednar, city staff coordinator for the year-old panel, said options will be explored on how best to spread the word about the crosswalk law in Elgin.
Bednar said committee members questioned whether the law might lead to more rear-end crashes and considered other potential drawbacks. Unlike the critics, they concluded the law deserved support.
"We only thought this (law) can have a positive impact on people, Bednar said.
Another supporter was the Illinois Chiefs of Police Association.
Patrick J. O'Connor, chief of the Palos Hills-based Moraine Valley Community College police who heads the association, said the ambiguity of requiring drivers to yield to pedestrians was removed by now having them stop for anyone in crosswalks.
No coordinated statewide effort has started to promote awareness of the law. O'Connor said he intends to encourage police chiefs across Illinois to help inform their towns.
Secretary of State Jesse White's office will note the crosswalk law in updated Rules of the Road booklets and in speakers' bureau presentations, spokeswoman Elizabeth Kaufman said. She said the office took a neutral stance on the law when it was proposed.
O'Connor said he doesn't believe drivers should have a problem adapting.
"If someone is out there, let them get across the street, he said. "It keeps people off (car) hoods.