Put the Phone Down

There was a time when talking to someone meant having to locate them in person and deliver a message. Then the telephone was invented and you could call someone at their house and talk to them. If they weren’t home you would leave a message and patiently wait for a return call. Now we can instantly send a message to someone from almost anywhere in the world. But what about when driving, is it safe to be on electronic devices cruising down the road? What laws pertain to all the equipment police officers and truckers have in their mobile offices?

Illinois law has two separate statutes that pertain to electronic communication devices and vehicles. One is designed for passenger cars and trucks, the other is intended for operators of commercial motor vehicles. Both are directed at drivers keeping their eyes on the road and not on a screen.

Illinois statute 625 ILCS 5/12-610.1 and 12-610.2 define wireless telephones as electronic communication devices, and provide definitions needed to understand the laws. A wireless telephone is just that, a phone which can receive and make calls without a wire. An electronic communication device is a little more complicated.

“Electronic communication device” means an electronic device, including but not limited to, a hand-held wireless telephone, hand-held personal digital assistant, or a portable or mobile computer. However, this definition does not include a global positioning system or navigation system physically or electronically integrated into the motor vehicle.

The statute goes on to give examples when a driver is exempt from the statute:

* law enforcement or other authorized emergency vehicles
* a driver using a communication device to report an emergency
* a commercial vehicle driver reading a message on a permanently mounted device with a screen that does not exceed at least 10 inches by 10 inches
* while parked on the side of the roadway
* when the vehicle is stopped due to normal traffic being obstructed and the vehicle is in park or neutral
* two way or citizens band radio
* amateur radio users
* using a single button to start or end a phone call
* a driver using an electronic communication device capable of performing multiple functions, other than a hand-held wireless telephone or hand-held personal digital assistant (for example, a fleet management system, dispatching device, citizens band radio, or music player) for a purpose that is not otherwise prohibited by this Section.

For the common motor vehicle driver. In a nutshell, put the phone down. Although it is not illegal to use a phone while stopped at a red light (if the car is in neutral), what usually happens is the light turns green and the driver is still looking at the phone. Traffic will start moving and the officer will start writing the ticket as the driver sits there texting.

As for using a cell phone GPS system, best practice would be to set it before the trip and forget it. Although GPS systems are listed as an exemption, if the driver is looking at screen and simultaneously runs a red light, the officer will start writing the ticket.

A laptop on the center console while driving also does not meet the definition of installed. One certainly should not be entering purchase orders while cruising along the highway. This will not make the cut and the officer will start writing that ticket.

The best practice is to use a hands-free system that will make calls on command, voice integration will keep the driver up to date, read texts out load and the user to respond. Being distracted by a phone is like driving under the influence. Mental process time slows down and reactions become delayed.

For anyone who has looked inside a modern police car, it’s a wonder any driving can be accomplished. Between the radios, the computer, the cameras and radar gun there is also a cell phone. All too often officers are using one or more of the gadgets at the same time while driving down the road.

It is important for officers to remember to be an example for others and try to limit the distractions inside the car. This is a hard task as they are constantly getting messages on the computer or running a license plate. Police officers can limit phone use in the car, especially while driving. Pulling into a parking lot to talk on the phone might be the example needed for someone to follow suit.

Commercial vehicle drivers, it is imperative that you put the phone down. Switch to a hands-free system. The penalties for driving a commercial motor vehicle (those which require a CDL) and talking on your phone are far greater than a regular driver. The risk of losing your commercial driver’s license is there, and should be all that is needed to make someone think twice before talking on their cell phone while driving that big rig.

Together we can work on making Illinois a safer state to drive in. Enjoy the roads around you and the beauty that Illinois offers. Put the phone down and enjoy driving again.

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