Today's driving double whammy: Gas tax hike, texting crackdown
You're sweltering in holiday traffic dreaming of cottage country, when the fuel warning goes off. Do not -- repeat -- do not grab your smartphone and type "cheap gas near me," or "how many miles to Indiana?"
That's because today represents a double whammy for Illinois drivers: a gas hike, and a crackdown on distracted driving.
The timing is prescient: 2.4 million Illinoisans will drive farther than 50 miles over the July 4 holiday period, up 4.5 percent from a year ago, AAA estimates. Nationwide, 49 million Americans will take a road trip or hop on a plane this week, a spike of 4 percent compared to 2018.
Gas prices are notoriously hard to predict. But one thing's certain: Illinois gas soared by 19 cents a gallon at 12:01 this morning, a result of lawmakers doubling the motor fuel tax to 38 cents to fund a six-year $33 billion transportation program.
On Sunday, prices averaged $3.03 in DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, and $3.19 in Cook. And those totals aren't likely to drop, the AAA's Nicholas Jarmusz said.
"Inventories will tighten due to increased demand during the record-setting travel period, and a refinery closure (due to a massive explosion earlier this week) in Pennsylvania will have a ripple effect on prices across the country," he noted.
Also of note -- starting today, drivers who cruise and use hand-held phones won't get off easy when busted for the first time. Driving and texting has been illegal in Illinois since 2014, but the first offense didn't count as a moving violation.
Now drivers who text, talk or use any hand-held devices behind the wheel will face a $75 ticket. Three moving violations in a 12-month period will lead to a license suspension.
Illinois State Police issued 15,150 distracted driving citations in 2018. Will that number increase?
"It's difficult to predict exactly what will happen once the distracted driving law making the first offense a moving violation goes into effect on July 1," Sgt. Jacqueline Cepeda said. Police "will continue to enforce all laws to keep all members of the public safe."
If you are hitting the road for Independence Day, avoid peak times on Wednesday, anticipated to be the gnarliest day on local expressways, the Illinois tollway advised. About 1.9 million vehicles will use toll roads that day compared to norms of 1.6 million.
As for airports, the Chicago Department of Aviation advises fliers to reach O'Hare and Midway international airports two hours in advance for domestic flights. Nationwide, nearly 4 million people will fly, a 5.3 increase from last year, AAA reported.
The busiest day at O'Hare will be Sunday and for Midway it's next Monday, the CDA predicted. Overall, 1.6 million travelers will be at O'Hare over the holiday week, with 490,000 expected at Midway.
Cathy Schumacher of Wheaton applauds Illinois for toughening distracted driving consequences, but asks, "can we get Hollywood and TV on board? In many scenes with a conversation in a car, the drivers take their eyes off the road to look directly at the passenger.
Kids emulate what they see and are being shown by their idols that this is OK," Schumacher said.
"How often do teens and other drivers try to show pics to (or take selfies with) the driver? Let's see some billboards about that -- oh wait, that's a distraction too."
One more thing
Along with a statewide gas tax, the new law empowers DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties to raise their motor fuel taxes from 4 to 8 cents a gallon. Lake and Will counties don't charge this fee currently but it could bring a lot of bacon, Lake County officials learned Wednesday at a committee meeting. How much? Planners estimate a 4-cent fee would equal nearly $11 million annually, 6 cents would generate about $16.4 million, and 8 cents $21.8 million, a draft report indicated.
The bottom line? Lots of preliminary discussion but no decisions.
Pad your travel times on the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) now through fall. The Illinois tollway is fixing pavement, bridges and ramps on I-88 between Route 56 in Sugar Grove and Route 59 in Naperville.
Want to get away?
We're No. 6! Scott's Cheap Flights issued its Best and Worst U.S. Airports for Cheap International Flights list, and O'Hare International Airport landed the sixth spot for bargains.
These included $290 from Chicago to Barcelona and $486 to Tahiti, both round-trip.