Metro-East News

Police ticket dozens in stepped-up patrols for distracted driving

An officer used binoculars to watch for distracted-driving offenders during Swansea’s crackdown.
An officer used binoculars to watch for distracted-driving offenders during Swansea’s crackdown.

A Swansea Police Department’s Facebook post is going viral, but if you’re driving, you better not look to see what it is.

The post announced the results of a task force cracking down on drivers using their cellphones while driving. It received more than 15,000 hits since it was posted on Friday morning.

“We are trying to raise awareness,” said Swansea Police Chief Steve Johnson. “It’s not about making money, it’s about saving lives.”

In two hours on Thursday, Swansea and Fairview Heights officers set up on the corner of Illinois 159 and Frank Scott Parkway — a spot that has seen 65 accidents since 2015. An officer on a grassy corner set up with binoculars, looking for drivers on their phones, and officers in their cars stopped the offending drivers. In two hours, the task force issued 39 tickets.

Illinois State Police stepped up patrols for distracted-driving offenses last week for Distracted Driver Awareness Week.

“If you’re driving your vehicle, you are already multitasking,” said Illinois State Police Trooper Calvin Dye Jr. “At a minimum you are operating a vehicle at roadway speed, and you are calculating the distances and the navigation of all other drivers and obstacles around you.”

As of Thursday, Illinois State Police in the area issued 32 distracted-driving tickets and 24 warnings to drivers texting or talking on their phones, Dye said. Most of those tickets were issued to interstate drivers, Dye said.

Johnson said, “We just want to get the word out and let people know how dangerous it is. Everybody has a story about being in a crash or having a close call with a driver on a cellphone.”

Shelley Timmermeier does.

It was Feb. 13, 2016, a clear and sunny day, when a driver on his cellphone crossed into the lane on Fosterburg Road near Alton, where Timmermeier, 61, and her partner, Mark Schlattner, 57, were driving. Timmermeier had left her brother’s home to go to her own home in Piasa. The accident left Timmermeier and Schlattner in intensive care. They were in the hospital for months. Unable to work, the couple was financially devastated, Timmermeier said. From the trauma of the accident, Timmermeier was unable to drive for more than a year.

The other driver received citations for improper lane usage and using an electronic communication device while driving. The cellphone ticket was dismissed, but he pleaded guilty to the illegal lane usage and paid a $120 fine. A month before the accident, the same driver received a ticket for using a cellphone while driving in Macoupin County. He paid a $120 fine.

“I didn’t give much thought to distracted drivers until I was almost killed,” Timmermeier said.

39 TICKETS FOR ILLEGAL CELL PHONE USE!Thursday Swansea and Fairview Heights Police teamed up for a DISTRACTED DRIVER...

Posted by Swansea Police Department on Friday, April 28, 2017

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer