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Cellphone ban now affects all Illinois drivers

A new Illinois law is in effect that bans the use of handheld cellphones in moving cars. Commercial truck drivers are familiar with the rule. Truckers haven't been allowed to drive state roads with handheld cellphones for a year. Hands-free devices, like speaker phones and headsets, are permissible.

Texting and driving was already illegal.

State transportation officials are anxious to see the impact on car accident statistics. The state recorded 973 traffic fatalities at the end of 2013, up two percent from 2012. Cook County accidents contributed heavily to the fatality rate, with 250 traffic deaths in 2013 - over 25 percent of the state's rate.

Officials with the Illinois Department of Transportation noted that 2013 continued a downward trend in traffic deaths. It was the fifth year in a row that accident deaths numbered under 1,000.

Recent figures placed side by side with statistics from decades past show a substantial drop in fatalities. Between the early 1960s and late 1970s, the annual death rate stayed above 2,000. IDOT officials think the state's mandatory seat belt law, enacted in 1985, had a lot to do with the change.

Until 2003, police could not enforce the seat belt law unless drivers broke some other traffic rule. State drivers have been pulled over and ticketed during the last decade only for failing to use seat belts. Police now have the same primary enforcement power to stop drivers using handheld cellphones.

A new concern for transportation officials is the higher speed limits allowed on rural interstates. Drivers can now travel at 70 mph on these highways. Increased speeds may cause the fatality rate to climb.

Laws to prevent distracted driving have successfully prevented unnecessary accident injuries and deaths in other states. Illinois government agencies, lawmakers and drivers are hoping the same happens here. By making cellphone use an offense, the new ban also adds support to civil claims for compensation.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Traffic deaths in Illinois rise for second straight year" Kim Geiger, Jan. 01, 2014

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