In 2014, there were 4,045 vehicles were involved in traffic accidents resulting in 13 fatalities and 853 injuries in Macon County alone, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. As new personal technologies evolve, Illinois has recognized that distracted drivers are an increasingly common cause of traffic accidents. Taking your eyes from the road for as little as 5 seconds to read or send a text can be fatal. During those five seconds a vehicle going 55 miles per hour travels the length of a football field.
Illinois Legislation Takes Action
Recent Illinois laws on distracted drivers include laws on drivers who use electronic devices to read and send texts, make phone calls, or for web browsing. Younger drivers are especially susceptible to distracted driving due to the use of electronic devices. This article will address Illinois distracted driving laws on texting and use of electronic devices with references to relevant sections of the Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS).
Driving While Using a Cell phone or Other Electronic Communication Device
Cell phone usage while driving is carefully regulated under 625 ILCS 5/12-610.1 which prohibits use of a cell phone while driving for any person under 19 years of age. Cell phone usage is also prohibited for all drivers “on a roadway in a school speed zone […], on a highway in a construction or maintenance speed zone […], or within 500 feet of an emergency scene.” Limited exceptions are provided for emergency situations, law enforcement personnel, and hands-free devices.
625 ILCS 5/12-610.2 also expressly forbids any person operating a motor vehicle from using an electronic communication device, defined as an electronic device including:
- Hand-held wireless telephone
- Hand-held personal digital assistant,
- Portable or mobile computer,
“Electronic communication device” does not include:
- Global positioning system
- Navigation system
- Device that is physically or electronically integrated into the motor vehicle.
As with the general use of cell phones, the law provides exceptions for certain limited situations including using the electronic communication device:
- Solely to report an emergency,
- In voice-operated mode
- While parked on the shoulder of a road,
- In situations where traffic has stopped and the driver’s vehicle is in neutral or park.
Consequences to Violating the Cell Phone or Electronic Communication Device Laws
Under each of these sections, repeated or aggravated violation may rise to the level of commission of a felony, resulting in imprisonment and fines.
In investigating injury due to a traffic accident, an experienced distracted driver motor vehicle accident attorney will look into the cause of the accident and will consider distracted driving as a contributing factor. Even in cases where the use of a cell phone was not illegal, it may be considered in determining liability. Juries are often unsympathetic to distracted drivers. For that reason it is important to subpoena the cell phone records of the drivers involved to establish whether electronic devices were in use at the time of the accident.
Eligibility for Punitive Damages
It is possible that a victim may be able to request punitive damages if the driver who caused the accident was texting. To succeed on a claim for punitive damages, you must show, by clear and convincing evidence, that the other driver’s conduct:
- Was with evil motive; or
- With a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm; and
- With a conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others.
While a request for punitive damages in traffic accidents is most commonly posed in the context of driving under the influence (DUI) accidents, it may be also be possible in other cases of distracted driving including texting. As public attention is increasingly drawn to the dangers of texting while driving through ad campaigns and media coverage, most defendant drivers will acknowledge that the danger of an accident increases with use of a cell phone. Admission of that kind may rise to the level of “conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others” and can be enough for a judge to submit the issue of punitive damages to the jury. A seasoned distracted driver motor vehicle accident attorney with McCarthy Rowden & Baker can use this in turn to put pressure on the insurance company to settle the case quickly.