SPRINGFIELD — Two new driving safety measures were signed into law this month — one cracking down on distracted driving, and the other encouraging motorists to watch for bikes.
One law signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner imposes a harsher penalty on drivers caught using a phone behind the wheel without a hands-free device.
The new law, which goes into effect next July, makes the penalty $75 for a first offense, $100 for a second, $125 for a third and $150 for a fourth or subsequent offense. Under current law, drivers get a warning and no fine the first time.
Distracted driving has been cited as a factor in an increase in traffic deaths nationally over the last three years.
Jeff Kroll, an attorney with the firm Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard who specializes in crash cases, said he thinks the law is too lenient and "of no consequence."
"Drivers can gamble and the rest of society loses," said Kroll, who said driving while using a phone can be more dangerous than driving drunk. "If I drive distracted three times, I'm paying $125. There's no hammer to this."
Another bill signed by the governor adds the "Dutch Reach" method of opening car doors to Illinois' Rules of the Road manual and adds bike safety questions to the state driver's license exam.
The Dutch Reach encourages drivers and passengers to use the hand farthest from the door to reach across the body to open the door after parallel parking. This prods people in motor vehicles to look back for cyclists and other traffic, and can help prevent sometimes-fatal "dooring" crashes, said the Active Transportation Alliance, a bike, pedestrian and transit user advocacy group. It is called the Dutch Reach because it is taught and used in the Netherlands.
Illinois Department of Transportation data shows dooring crashes on the rise across the state. In 2015, there were more than 300 reported in Chicago, a 50 percent increase from the previous year.
"A moment of carelessness for a driver can cause a lifetime of misery for a family," Kroll said.