Authorities: Distracted driving must become socially unacceptable

The average number of fatal crashes each year in Kane County has increased nearly 50 percent since 2014, which is one of the reasons Illinois State Police are partnering with schools, hospitals, local police departments, driver organizations and others to get drivers to put down their phones, put two hands on the wheel and keenly focus on the road.

"We know it's a problem, but we've not broken our behavior patterns," Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said. "It's extremely rare seeing somebody driving in a motor vehicle without a seat belt. I hope somewhere in the near future, it's like that with cellphones."

McMahon said Tuesday during his monthly media meeting that the average number of fatal traffic crashes in Kane County from 2010 to 2014 was 22. From 2015 to 2018, the number jumped to 32 - an increase of almost 50 percent.

"A 50-percent increase over a three-year period is a dramatic rise in fatal traffic crashes," McMahon said, noting other distractions can be a simple as listening to the radio, enhanced dashboard and windshield displays on newer cars, and the number of passengers in a vehicle, especially young children.

Illinois State Police have fanned out in Kane County this month to track distracted driving and hopefully get drivers to focus on the road, not the next text or social media update.

Authorities chose Kane because of its mix of urban, suburban and rural areas.

"We went through this with the seat belt law. It has taken a while," said state police Lt. Col. David Byrd. "We understand the fight that's ahead of us. Law enforcement has a lot of other battles we should be fighting right now. We prefer not to be writing tickets for this."

Charlene Sligting-Yorke, Traffic Safety Program manager for the AAA, said distracted driving can lead to "inattentional blindness" - failing to see or recognize a fully visible object, such as an exit ramp or sign, because a person is focused on something else.

Sligting-Yorke, whose father was killed by a distracted driver, said studies show a driver is distracted for 27 seconds even after putting down a cellphone.

"We have to become a culture where distracted driving is socially unacceptable," she said.

Beginning July 1, texting while driving in Illinois will be classified as a moving violation. Three such tickets in 12 months can result in a suspended driver's license. For more information about driving safe, visit

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