As we detailed in an earlier blog, Arizona is one of only three states with no legal limitations of any kind on cell phone use while driving. Not only are more and more states limiting the ways in which a driver can legally utilize a cell phone, an increasing number are stiffening the penalties, as well.
Presently, 12 states and the District of Columbia ban all hand-held cell phone use of any kind while driving. ANY use of a cell phone that does not involve a Bluetooth-equipped hands-free device is illegal. These laws are in response to recent government studies which focused exclusively on the incidence of auto accidents involving electronic devices. These “distraction-affected” auto accidents have increased in number every year since 2010, which is the first year examined in the studies.
Illinois passed two laws this past session that significantly stiffen the laws regulating cell phone use while driving. Effective January 1, 2014, law enforcement can stop and fine a driver simply for using a hand-held phone while driving. Further, the penalties for drivers who cause accidents due to phone use were increased. Come January 1st, drivers in Illinois who are “distracted by an electronic device” at the time they cause an injury accident can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. This can result in a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 364 days in jail. A driver distracted by an electronic device who causes a fatal accident is in much hotter water: he/she can be charged with a Class 4 felony, which means a fine of up to $25,000 and up to three years in jail.
We recognize that some might consider the Illinois statutes to be too strict or the penalties too harsh. People of good conscience can certainly disagree over what level of regulation of cell phone use and driving is appropriate. We do not believe, however, that a complete absence of any regulation is defensible. Arizona drivers and pedestrians are being injured every day by drivers too foolish to put down their phones while piloting a vehicle. It is a problem that our legislature and governor should have addressed by now. We encourage all of our readers to contact their state senators and representatives to insist that this problem is finally addressed in the next legislative session.