Overview of laws concerning the use of cellphones and other distractions while operating a vehicle
When you send a text or post on social media, your brain releases dopamine — a hormone that makes you feel happy and reinforces whatever behavior preceded it. Researchers believe that this process impairs our judgment and causes us to ignore the known dangers of using smartphones while driving.
And make no mistake, using a cellphone while driving is extremely dangerous.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving causes approximately 1 million crashes every year in the United States. Drivers who talk on their smartphones are 4 times more likely to crash (the same odds as drunk drivers) and drivers who text while driving are 8 times more likely to crash.
Unfortunately, Illinois isn’t immune from distracted driving.
Illinois distracted driving statistics
Across the United States, 3,166 people died from distracted driving in 2017. In Illinois alone, the police issued 15,150 citations for distracted driving in 2018.
Teens are particularly at risk. Six out of every 10 teen crashes in 2018 involved driver distraction.
Common types of distractions
The NHTSA identifies 3 main types of distractions:
- Visual distractions - something that causes a driver to divert their attention from the road
- Manual distractions - something that causes a driver to remove one or both hands from the steering wheel
- Cognitive distractions - something that causes a driver’s mind and focus to wander to something other than the task of driving
Though most distracted driving accidents are caused by smartphones, there are many other common sources of distraction:
- Reading or writing
- Tuning the radio
- Putting on makeup
- Eating or drinking
- Combing hair
- Filing or clipping fingernails
- Arguing with another passenger
- Reaching for the glove compartment
- Breaking up fights between children
- Putting in contact lenses
- Picking something up from the floor or between the seats
Distracted driving laws in Illinois
Illinois law prohibits the use of smartphones and other electronic communication devices (such as digital assistants and tablets) while operating a motor vehicle.
Are there any exceptions?
Yes. Drivers are permitted to use a smartphone (or another electronic communication device) while driving to report an emergency. In addition, hands-free devices are allowed for drivers aged 19 and older.
If a driver is caught using an electronic communication device while driving in Illinois, they will be issued a moving violation that will go on their driving record. If convicted of 3 moving violations in a year, a driver can have their license suspended.
In addition to a moving violation, drivers face fines of $75 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, $125 for a third offense, and $150 for a fourth offense.
How distracted driving affects liability in a car accident
The fines for using a cell phone or other electronic communication device while driving are relatively small. The real cost of using such a device shows up when the person using the device causes a crash.
Typically, when one driver sues another driver for damages caused by a car accident, the driver bringing the lawsuit (the “plaintiff”) must prove that the driver being sued (the “defendant”) was negligent.
In Illinois, “negligence” is defined as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to yourself or someone else. If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant was using an electronic communication device (or was otherwise distracted) when the accident occurred, the plaintiff can generally establish negligence.
What’s more, if the defendant received a citation for violating the distracted driving statute, the defendant will be presumed negligent and the defendant will have the burden of proving that they didn’t cause the accident. This is referred to as “negligence per se.”
To put it simply, if an accident is caused by a distracted driver, the distracted driver is negligent and the other driver will be able to recover damages for their injuries.
Proving distracted driving
Unfortunately, if the defendant didn’t receive a citation, proving distracted driving can be challenging.
Phone records can help, but they aren’t helpful if the distraction was caused by something else like checking their makeup in the mirror or adding sugar to a cup of coffee.
This is where an Illinois personal injury attorney can help. An experienced attorney can help gather evidence to support your claim that the defendant was distracted, including deposition testimony.
Tips to avoid distracted driving accidents
You don’t want to find yourself on the other end of a lawsuit or, even worse, the other end of the pavement. Follow these tips to avoid distracted driving accidents:
- Pull over to talk on the phone, text message, or email. Using a hands-free device is just as dangerous as using a hand-held device. The only way to stay safe is to pull over to the side of the road before using an electronic communication device. Practice good habits by turning your phone off or on airplane mode before you drive so you won’t be tempted to answer calls when behind the wheel.
- Don't touch that dial. Adjust your seat positions, climate controls, sound systems, and other devices before you start driving. Know how your controls work just in case you slip up and adjust something while driving.
- Don’t multitask when driving. Research shows that our brains can’t actually multitask, so don’t bother trying. Avoid using your car’s mirrors for personal grooming when the vehicle is in motion or trying to read while you’re behind the wheel.
- Pull over to care for children. If you have children in the backseat, you’ll inevitably have to change, feed, or stop them from fighting at some point. Never turn around in your seat to manage your children. Rather, pull over to the side of the road or into a parking lot to address the problem.
- Stop to eat or drink. Drive-through windows and giant cup holders make it tempting to eat on the go, but it’s much safer when you stop to eat or drink.