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Distracted Driving in Chicago

Distracted driving has been thrust into the spotlight by the growing popularity of text messages and mobile phones. These two new pieces of technology have been blamed for countless automobile accidents; some of them fatal. Illinois law bans the sending or reading of text messages while driving. This ban is enforced by a $75 to $150 fine. Some studies even suggest that texting while driving is just as dangerous as driving while under the influence of alcohol. Drivers can be distracted by anything: from unruly passengers to eating a burger and fries. Distracted driving is similar to drunken driving in many ways and can compound the dangers of driving under the influence. Illinois DUI lawyers can probably expect to see more cases from distracted driving arise.

This new emerging area of law will become even more complex with the continued proliferation of mobile devices and pending legislation. Contact a Chicago DUI attorney if you find yourself in need of legal advice about DUI compounded by distracted driving charges.


Recently in Distracted Driving Category

Dwight Washington, a truck driver for the city of Chicago, allegedly had an open bottle of brandy and twice the legal blood alcohol level at the time he plowed a city truck into seven pedestrians on a crowded sidewalk. Now, MyFox Chicago is reporting that victims of the crash have sued both Washington and the city.

According to Fox, Washington was driving a city-owned Ford F-150 pickup truck around noon in the crowded Gold Coast neighborhood. Eyewitness accounts report Washington driving at an excessive speed when he lost control of the truck and drove into a crowd of people on the sidewalk. Prosecutors stated that Washington had an open bottle of E&J Brandy next to him at the time of the accident and that he had a 0.183 blood alcohol level (twice the legal limit).

Police say a 16-year-old Crystal Lake girl drove her Lexus into the attached garage of a house while texting, as reported by the Northwest Herald. There were no injuries and the house was declared habitable following the crash.

The teen was driving a 1998 Lexus ES300 on Country Club Rd. in Crystal Lake when the car went off a curve, across the front lawn and into the house. Both the car and the house sustained extensive damage, which you can see for yourself by viewing the photo accompanying the Herald article.

An MSNBC series suggests that while a sleep-deprived motorist is in many cases just as hazardous as a drunk one, federal transportation safety guidelines addressing the dangers of drowsy driving have not been adequately adopted by other federal agencies. 

Conclusions were based on what many say is a disconnect between research into the dangers of sleep-deprived driving and the lackluster adoption of safety recommendations issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The NTSB issued 138 fatigue-related safety recommendations for motorists, pilots and other operators of various types of vehicles. But only 68 have been implemented by federal agencies, MSNBC reported.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Roadside Memorial Act into law earlier this year, which will expand the state's roadside memorial program for traffic accident victims to those killed in distracted driving incidents, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Currently only those who died in DUI and other alcohol-related accidents are allowed to be memorialized by roadside signs.

While Chicago DUI lawyers don't typically handle distracted driving cases, mostly because they don't carry the same penalties, advocates for tougher laws say distracted driving is often as dangerous as drunk driving. New research cited by another recent Sun-Times article backs that assertion.

Calling it the insurance industry's first free mobile phone tool to prevent distracted driving accidents, State Farm Insurance Co. introduced what it calls its "On the Move" widget, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Specifically, the application allows Android smartphone users to automatically reply to text messages by sending a reply that they're busy driving. The motivation for an insurance company would be to reduce the number of accidents and ultimately lower the cost of claims.

Although Chicago DUI lawyers don't typically handle cases related to distracted driving, which are treated as traffic infractions, proponents of tougher distracting driving laws state that texting while driving (for example) is often just as dangerous as drunk driving.

Distracted driving, whether it's sending text messages or handing your child a snack, is hardly a problem limited to teenage drivers. But still, as Chicago Daily Herald article explores, teenagers lack driving experience and also are the most frequent users of handheld technology.

Although proponents of tougher distracted driving laws insist that distractions can sometimes be just as dangerous as alcohol-impairment, Illinois motorists cited for texting while driving typically don't need the services of Chicago DUI lawyers.

Summer vacation is a time for cross-country road trips, while extended drives make GPS-enabled and Web-connected mobile phones that much more attractive. But as an MSNBC article points out, be aware of different states' distracted driving laws before setting out.

Illinois enacted a ban on sending or reading text messages while driving on Jan. 1, as an ABC Chicago article explains. But while Chicago DUI lawyers don't typically handle distracted driving cases, distraction is strikingly similar to intoxication and often just as dangerous.

Today's smart phones are the Swiss Army Knife of road trips. Many of them run applications for finding cheap gas, inexpensive hotels and traffic updates; while most phones nowadays come equipped with GPS-enabled navigation software.

A lobbyist group angling to represent the mobile phone industry and known by the acronym DRIVE, or "Drivers for Responsibility, Innovation and Vehicle Education," is countering efforts by Oprah Winfrey and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to curb distracted driving accidents through greater regulation, Fair Warning reported. 

Fair Warning, a non-governmental organization that serves as a corporate watchdog, linked to a 10-page internal DRIVE document describing its efforts to push back against campaigns to limit mobile phone use in the car (PDF).   

The rationale for the mobile industry's resistance to distracted driving laws is simple: Fears about the dangers of texting and driving (some, including Oprah, have advocated against all mobile phone use while driving) translates into fewer minutes and thus lower profits.

The Northwest Times reported that Rosemary Quiñones, a mother of five who lives in East Chicago, Indiana, was inspired to take action to support the texting while driving law after her autistic 6-year-old son nearly got hit by a car. She realized that her son might have been killed if the driver had been distracted by a text message, since the car stopped just inches shy of the boy.

But while most citizen crusades against societal dangers are prompted by tragedy, such as a DUI fatality or sexual assault, Rosemary Quiñones hopes Indiana will follow the lead of neighboring Illinois by outlawing texting while driving.

Illinois banned the sending or reading of text messages while driving on Jan. 1, which some say is often just as impairing as alcohol intoxication. Distracted driving penalties in Illinois are not quite as severe as a DUI, but it may only be a matter of time before Chicago DUI lawyers start taking on such cases.

For now, offenders are stopped and ticketed if caught.

Morris resident Lora Hunt was convicted of reckless homicide for rear-ending the motorcycle of 56-year-old Anita Zaffke, killing her, while she was distracted by nail polish, the Chicago Tribune reported. The victim's family members hope to make some good out of the tragedy by raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.

Lora Hunt's criminal attorney said his client would not have been convicted of a crime had she been distracted by a cell phone or a sandwich, to which prosecutor Mike Mermel replied that polishing one's nails is very different from other forms of distracted driving:

"It is not the same as biting a sandwich ... it's a voluntary disablement. She might as well have been in the back seat making a sandwich."