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Awareness campaign to highlight new Illinois cellphone law

Some habits are tough to break. Before the first of the year rolled around, Cook County drivers could use hand-held cellphones while driving for anything but texting. State officials now want to promote driver awareness to reinforce the new ban on hand-held cellphones and consequences for breaking the law.

Lawmakers here and in 11 other states chose to outlaw hand-held cellphones to curb senseless distracted driving accidents. The law's passage follows numerous reports about the personal and financial toll cellphone-related accidents exact. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates about 800,000 drivers are on hand-held cellphones throughout the country at any one time.

Other federal agencies have warned against cellphone use by motorists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 1,000 people in the U.S. are injured and nine victims die daily in distracted driving crashes. Federal transportation officials said hand-held cellphone users were four times more prone to injury car accidents than non-cellphone users.

Illinois drivers are permitted to continue to use hands-free devices to communicate while driving. The only time a hand-held phone now can be used legally is during an emergency. The state plans to remind drivers of the new law through strategically-placed posters and billboard, radio and television campaigns.

A first-time cellphone offense will mean a fine of at least $75; the cost can double for additional infractions. Continued citations also may lead to a driver's license suspension. Drivers who cause accidents while using hand-held cellphones or other distracting devices can be sent to prison, as long as a year when victims are seriously injured and as long as three years, when a person dies in a distracted driving accident.

Civil penalties may be added to criminal consequences for cellphone ban violators. Victims injured by distracted drivers, including families who lose loved ones in distracted driving accidents, may file negligence claims for personal and financial losses.

Source: WREX, "IDOT launches campaign on hand-held cell phone ban" Samantha Jeffreys, Feb. 11, 2014

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