A cell phone may weigh just a few ounces, but it packs a lethal punch when coupled with the weight and momentum of a vehicle traveling down the road. When a driver takes their eyes away from the road to send a text, read a message, or answer a call, the results can be catastrophic.
From 2009 to 2013, over 6,000 vehicular accidents occurred in Illinois when drivers did just that. In 2013 alone, there were 1,400 crashes. These accidents caused 33 fatalities and a considerable number of injuries. Nationally, it is estimated that 1.3 million, or 23% of all crashes, involve at least one driver who was using their cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. These accidents create an economic impact that exceeds $40 billion per year including lost income, medical expenses, and funeral costs.
While many people assume texting is more dangerous than talking, the National Safety Council’s research has shown that talking while driving resulted in 12 times as many accidents as texting. Thus, while Illinois may allow motorists to use speakerphones while driving, there still remains a considerable risk that a driver chatting away can cause an accident.
The dangers of distracted driving caused by cell phone technology prompted the Illinois General Assembly to pass a ban on the use of hand-held devices. The state became the 12th state in the nation to pass similar legislation. The law went into effect on January, 1, 2014 and is rigorously enforced by the Illinois State Police and local law enforcement agencies.
The law prohibits the use of hand-held devices, but does allow for speakerphones, and for the phone to be used in emergency situations. If a driver is caught violating the law, they can be issued a fine of $75 for a first offense, and $150 for any subsequent offenses. The law also carries strict penalties should the use of a cell phone lead to an accident that causes an injury or a fatality. Should this happen, drivers can be sent to prison.
Prison sentences for causing fatalities while driving aren’t just idle talk. This past month,24-year-old Travis Crain from Madison was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for the fatal death of Mark Harris. In April 2015, Harris was walking down the road in Granite City when Crain’s vehicle struck him. At the time of the accident, Crain was sending text messages, eating, and speeding. These distractions diverted his attention and turned his vehicle into a lethal weapon.
In addition to criminal penalties, Chicago car accident lawyers work hard to ensure that motorists who cause an accident while distracted by their cell phone are held accountable in civil court for the medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of income their actions cause.
According to the US Department of Transportation, drivers are four times more likely to be involved in an automobile accident when they are using their cell phone. It is a concerning figure given the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 800,000 drivers are talking or texting at any given time of day. Each moment these drivers are distracted from the road by their technology is a moment when disaster can occur.
At greatest risk are teenagers who lack experience behind the wheel and are easily distracted when their phones light up with messages from family and friends. Research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has shown that cell phones are the leading cause of distracted driving for teenagers. Their research has also shown that distracted driving is the leading cause of death for teenagers. As such, the connection between cell phones, distracted driving, and teenage fatalities is something that is crystal clear. This connection is the reason why Illinois prohibits teenagers under the age of 18 from using any type of communication device while driving.
When a driver traveling down the highway answers a call, reads a message, or sends a text, their vehicle can travel 100 meters or more in the seconds their attention is diverted from the road. In that time, the vehicle may drift out of the lane, another vehicle may change lanes into the path of the vehicle, or the vehicle may travel into obstructions, pedestrians, or cyclists in the roadway. It is a real danger and at highway speeds a 2,000 pound car has an impact force nearly 10 times the vehicle’s weight.
When a driver is distracted from the road by their phone, their vehicle becomes an unguided missile that can kill or injure indiscriminately. A careless driver can cause an accident that could otherwise be avoided. When operating a motor vehicle, a driver answering a call or sending simple messages such as “lol” might as well be texting “RIP” to their family, their friends, and the loved ones of the motorists they harm.