More than 500 drivers have been ticketed this year by Illinois State Police troopers in the metro-east under a four-year-old law that prohibits drivers from talking on their cellphones or texting while driving.
State police have issued 581 tickets or warnings to motorists in District 11 since Jan. 1, according to Trooper Calvin “Buddy” Dye Jr. That’s about the same number issued in 2014 by ISP — the first year the law was in effect — and doesn’t include tickets issued by local police and sheriff’s deputies.
For example, Belleville police have issued another 446 warnings and 39 citations this year, and Collinsville has issued 203 warnings and 48 citations. Figures for other police departments were not immediately available.
Despite ongoing campaigns by police on television, in print publications and on social media, people are not putting down their cellphones. Dye likened it to seat-belt use.
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“It took years and years of education. Some people felt restricted or forced to do what they didn’t want to do. Now, more people are putting on seat belts. There is no overnight quick fix. We’re talking about human beings,” he said.
Police refer to distracted driving primarily as talking on the cellphone or texting, even though state law allows hands-free devices through the use of Bluetooth technology.
Dye said he is surprised at drivers he pulls up behind who are so distracted they don’t move over, even when he has his lights on. “Then, I pull alongside them in a clearly marked squad car. They look at me and then look back at the road and continue to talk on their phones. They are so distracted they don’t know they’re looking at a cop car. Amazing,” he said.
Dye said the reason for the law is to promote safety and save lives.
“It’s not easy when we have to go to people’s homes and tell them the bad news — that their loved one was seriously injured of killed in a traffic accident because they were driving and trying to send a (text) message,” he said.
One local driver, Marlene Terry, said she doesn’t feel distracted when she uses her cellphone, “because it is paired to my car. That’s no difference from me listening to my radio and singing a song that I am listening to. If I am not using my hands to hold the phone in my hand, there’s nothing that distracts me from paying attention to my surroundings.”
The Illinois General Assembly passed the law in 2013, making Illinois the 14th state to prohibit drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving.
While the numbers are not declining, they’re not necessarily getting worse either.
“We are not going away. Through enforcement, we are going to have to keep stopping people we see who are not following the law. The offense is a moving violation, not an equipment violation and the minimum fine is $120. And, it will cause your insurance to go up,” he said.
East St. Louis Police Chief Jerry Simon said, “Throughout our shifts, officers see people driving and using their phones. We get a lot of St. Louis traffic, people come through East St. Louis going to and from St. Louis to work,” he said. Numbers relating to cellphone tickets or warnings were not immediately available.
Simon, who took over as police chief two months ago, said he and his officers are actively enforcing the law. Asked for his thoughts on whether the problem has gotten better or worse, he said, “ I think it’s gotten worse over the years. The last stats I saw said roughly 3,500 people (nationwide) died in car accidents because of it. And, over 350,000 people were injured.”
Simon said education about cellphone use and driving, and all traffic laws, starts at home.
“We want more parents to talk to their driving-age children about the dangers of texting and talking on cellphones while driving. And, to any adults that are doing it, Simon said, “You are to be the example. Don’t text or talk while driving,” he said. “We’ve done a couple of details where we educate rather than ticket. We want to keep them and our roads safe.”
Belleville Police Chief William Clay agreed the problem has not died down. “There’s all sorts of distracted driving. It’s not just texting. Some people feel even though a person is using a speaker to talk, they are still distracted. And, there are some studies that say this is distracted driving, too. Some people put on makeup or read their newspapers on their phones while they are driving,” Clay said.
Then, I pull alongside them in a clearly marked squad car. They look at me and then look back at the road and continue to talk on their phones. They are so distracted they don’t know they’re looking at a cop car. Amazing.
ISP Trooper Calvin “Buddy” Dye Jr.
“Over time, people will get smart about it and realize there is true danger in cellphone use while driving. You can see videos on YouTube of people so engaged on their phones that they walk into walls. They feel they can’t be without them. They’ve got to be looking at something. To occupy or distract yourself, you pick up your cellphone,” said Clay.
Belleville Detective Robert Wallace said said he sees cellphone offenders on a regular basis. He is assigned to the traffic division with duties that include crash investigations, traffic violations and enforcement. He said some motorists are so engaged in what they are doing on their phones they don’t pay attention to a marked squad car with its lights on next to them.
Wallace said most of the people he stops are aware that what they’re doing is illegal.
“It’s not safe. You’re endangering yourself and other people, too. If you really have to talk, you can go buy a good Bluetooth to attach to your phone. It cost less than the ticket you’ll get,” he said.
An editorial in the Chicago Tribune in December 2016 said, “Close your eyes and count five seconds. Open them. That’s the average amount of time motorists take their eyes off the road while texting,” the editorial said. “Think of what can happen in (five) seconds while you are driving 55 mph or faster down a busy expressway with your eyes shut.”
A report on wired.com used sensor data for more than 3 million drivers and 5.6 billion miles of trips. Driving anaytics company Zendrive found that drivers are using their phones on 88 percent of their journeys. The average driver is on the phone 3.5 minutes per every hour they are driving, the report said.
“You see people using their phones on the road all the time,” Zendrive CEO Jonathan Matus said in the report. “I know I have done it more than I care to admit.”
According to fleetowner.com, which caters to the trucking industry, researchers have developed technology that can jam cellphone calls while a vehicle is in motion, but can also report a driver’s attempt to use their cellphone to authorities.
Fairview Heights Police Chief Nick Gailius said his officers use their discretion in deciding whether they should issue a ticket or give a warning.
Gailius said along with speeding, running red lights and other traffic violations his officers are keeping a watchful eye out for, “... It’s all mixed in in traffic violations that normally cause traffic collisions.” He said It’s harder to detect cellphone offenders at night because of tinted windows and the darkness outside.
Fairview Heights officer Tim Mueller said, “You can drive down the road and see people using their phones away from their faces. It’s level to their ear, on a speaker and the phone is close to their face. The law is hands free is legal .... on a speaker, out of hands, not up to ear or close to the face,” Mueller said.
He said he doesn’t see as much texting as he does talking. He is surprised that more people aren’t obeying the law, especially in light of all of the news stories about accidents because of cellphone use. “Some people think it won’t happen to them or they think for just a second, it’s no big deal,” he said.
Mueller said the situation is similar to DUI arrests. People know that drunken driving is illegal, “but we’re still making arrests like crazy.” He said he thinks enforcement and education like with seat belts and DUIs “is the process that has to continue if we are to see a change.”
Collinsville Police Chief Steve Evans said his department enforces traffic laws, “including those related to distracted driving.
“We implore the motoring public to assist us by obeying these laws,” Evans said. “Additionally, we also suggest avoiding the many things within our modern vehicles capable of distracting drivers even if they are not illegal. By working together, we can all make this a safer holiday season.”
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503
Facts about distracted driving
- 3,154 people were killed in distraction-related crashes in 2013.
- 11 teens die every day as a result of texting while driving.
- 94 percent of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35 percent admitted to doing it anyway.
- 21 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cellphones.
- Cellphone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.
- Nearly 330,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving.
- 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.
- Texting while driving is 6 times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.
Source: National Safety Council and Automobile Association of America