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Motor Vehicle Accidents

Illinois bill raises criminal offense for fatal accidents

May 22, 2015

Illinois law states that drivers may not use electronic communication devices to compose, send or read an electronic message while operating the vehicle on the roadway. The number of tickets Illinois law enforcement has administered for the use of hand-held devices has grown significantly since the ban that was enacted in January of 2014.

However, Illinois lawmakers feel this law did not go far enough to impress on drivers the serious nature of this offense. They have recently amended the portion of the Illinois Vehicle Code dealing specifically with motor vehicle crashes that result in fatalities due to the use of electronic communication devices behind the wheel. A wrongful death attorney in Chicago may feel that the new restrictions have the potential to reduce the occurrence of the dangerous distracted driving behaviors.

The law and the amendment

The cell phone and texting laws are primary laws, meaning that drivers can be pulled over if an officer sees them using the phone or other electronic device. The fine for this violation is $75. Individuals who violate this law and cause a motor vehicle crash that results in the serious injury, permanent disability or disfigurement of another are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by fines of up to $2,500, and the possibility of a maximum one year jail term, depending on the circumstances.

Before the new amendment, the law stated that if an accident resulted in the death of another, the driver was found guilty of a Class 4 felony. This type of conviction includes fines of up to $25,000 and the possibility of between one and three years in a state penitentiary. An example of a Class 4 felony offense is aggravated assault. The new amendment states that a driver who causes a fatal car crash while using an electronic communication device is guilty of a Class 2 felony. In Illinois, this type of conviction can result in three to seven years in a state penitentiary.

Distracted driving facts

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, any activity that diverts a driver’s attention from the task of driving is considered a distraction. This includes looking at objects inside or outside the vehicle, reaching for objects, eating or drinking, reading and grooming, to name a few. Any driver who is not giving full attention to the road is endangering the safety of everyone nearby. However, a wrongful death attorney in Chicago is aware that hand-held electronic devices pose higher levels of risk because interacting with them leads to greater distraction.

Distraction.gov lists three specific types of distraction: Manual, visual and cognitive. Using an electronic communication device typically requires a driver to engage in all three, removing the eyes from the road, the hands from the wheel and the attention from the task of driving. The average text message or social media post takes about five seconds. During that amount of time, a vehicle travels over 100 yards at 55 miles per hour. Engaging in a texting type activity increases a person’s chance of an accident by 23 times. Even reaching for an electronic device raises the risk of an accident by three times.

As hand-held electronic devices have multiplied, so have the number of distracted driving accidents. Researchers estimate that there are approximately 660,000 people using hand-held electronic devices while driving at any given daylight moment in the United States. Federal estimates indicate that 16 percent of all fatal crashes involve distracted driving, leading to as many as 14 deaths per day, on average.

Teens driving distracted

According to the American Automobile Association’s Foundation Traffic Safety Culture Index, more than 80 percent of drivers feel that distracted driving is a serious problem that makes them feel less safe on the nation’s roads. Teens are most affected by distraction. Inexperience behind the wheel and the stage of brain development of young people make them particularly vulnerable. In spite of this increased risk, teens are among those who most frequently crash while driving distracted. Another AAA study examining thousands of actual crashes involving teen drivers showed that six out of every 10 of those accidents involved driver distraction.

A recent news story in the Daily Herald reports that a Lake County teen was allegedly texting when the minivan she was driving suddenly swerved and hit a cyclist. She has been charged with aggravated use of an electronic device that resulted in death. At the time of the accident, the new amendment to the Illinois Vehicle Code had not been enacted. If the driver is found guilty, she may serve one to three years in prison in addition to the $25,000 bond already paid, or she may be sentenced to probation, instead. According to the Lake County State’s Attorney, the victim’s family believes that the girl should be held fully accountable for the wrongful death with a more serious charge of reckless homicide.

Raising awareness

The Illinois Department of Transportation is collaborating with many other agencies statewide in sponsoring an awareness program on the dangers of texting while behind the wheel. Legislators and law enforcement officials are hopeful that, by increasing the penalties and promoting this type of campaign, distracted driving activities will be drastically reduced, making the roads safer for everyone.

A wrongful death attorney in Chicago may be able to provide legal assistance for victims and family members of crashes involving distracted drivers. Compensation may be available to cover medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages and lost quality of life.

If you have been injured in a personal injury or medical malpractice accident, do not hesitate to contact the Chicago accident and injury law firm of Cogan & Power at (312) 477-2500 to schedule a free case consultation, so that we can help you begin the process of recovery as soon as possible. If you cannot come to our offices in downtown Chicago, we will come to you. And because we take cases on a contingency basis, you will not pay any fee unless we get you compensation.