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Flurry of legislation targets text messaging while driving in Illinois

Flurry of legislation targets text messaging while driving in Illinois

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Flurry of legislation targets text messaging while driving in Illinois
In 2008, distraction from cell phones was either the primary or secondary cause for 1,001 automobile accidents in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. It was a decrease from 1,357 in 2007. (Pantagraph file photo)

SPRINGFIELD - Watching a woman try to text message and drive her car with her child in the back seat made state Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, realize something had to change. "That's just inappropriate," he said. | Rutherford joins GOP's Senate leadership team

Rutherford is among a handful of state lawmakers who have introduced legislation aimed at curbing the use of cell phones while driving.

Under his plan, people caught text messaging behind the wheel would be fined $75 and up to $200 if it results in an accident.

"It's kind of like propping a newspaper up and reading while driving down the highway," he said. "It's a safety hazard."

That could be banned too.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, is proposing legislation banning reading, text messaging or shaving while driving.

He said people need to be reminded that their attention should be on driving - not anything else.

"It's not something we can just put on automatic pilot," Pritchard said.

In 2008, distraction from cell phones was either the primary or secondary cause for 1,001 automobile accidents in Illinois, according to the state Department of Transportation. It was a decrease from 1,357 in 2007.

IDOT does not compile statistics strictly related to text messaging. Rutherford said he does not support banning talking on cell phones while driving.

The Illinois State Police support the proposal, but agency spokesman Scott Compton said officials recognize there would be challenges in enforcing it.

"Certainly on the interstate it would be difficult," Compton said, adding that at intersections it would be easier to enforce.

Seven states currently ban text messaging behind the wheel, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Pritchard's proposal would only affect people who are stopped for other traffic violations; Rutherford's measure would allow officers to pull offenders over if caught text messaging.

Verizon Wireless lobbyist Michael McDermott said his company would support a ban on text messaging.

More than a dozen states across the country are proposing a ban on texting while driving. There are technical issues to address though. In Maryland, questions have been raised about whether it be illegal to use an iPhone while driving because it has a touch screen.

Rutherford said he didn't think it was the same thing.

"I see that as being different as actually carrying on a correspondence in your texting," he said. "That would be part of an officer having to make a judgment call, and if it went to court a judge would have to make a ruling."

Rutherford's legislation is Senate Bill 29. Pritchard's proposal is House Bill 349.

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