Cellphone crackdown: Local police departments step up enforcement of new law
In the span of two four-hour targeted enforcement campaigns earlier this year conducted by Lake in the Hills police, 41 drivers were cited for talking on cellphones while driving.
“Our goal is not issuing as many citations as possible,” said Sgt. Eric Decker of the Lake in the Hills Police Department. “It is to increase awareness and gain voluntary compliance. If we never write another ticket, I would consider that a success.”
More than three months into the year with a law banning using hand-held cellphones while driving, residents are still adjusting.
Through the end of March, 1,368 McHenry County drivers had been issued a ticket for using an electronic communication device while driving, according to the McHenry County Circuit Clerk’s Office.
The special Lake in the Hills details that included three officers – one to observe the violations and radio to the other two officers who pulled over the offending vehicles – were initiated by the department.
Holding a cellphone up to an ear creates a blindspot, Decker said, and not paying attention while operating a vehicle can easily lead to an accident where someone is killed or injured.
“With the new cellphone law, ... we took the initiative to enforce it as diligently as possible,” Decker said.
Motorists who are charged with driving while talking with a hand-held cellphone can pay $120 without going to court to challenge it.
However, if a driver does go to court, the judge can fine the driver up to $75 for the first offense and assess court costs, bringing the total bill for the phone call up to about $300, the circuit clerk’s office said.
So far, through the end of March, 785 tickets for using an electronic device have been disposed of, including 702 of which were paid before a court date.
The remaining 83 went to court, according to the circuit clerk’s office.
In Crystal Lake, there have been about 175 citations since January for people who have violated the state’s electronic communication device law, said Commander of Support Services Dan Dziewior.
Even when the law was less restrictive from 2011 through 2013, Crystal Lake issued 417 citations.
Sgt. Jeff Sutrick is the traffic unit supervisor for the village of Algonquin.
In April, Algonquin is recognizing distracted driving month to encourage people to avoid distractions such as using a cellphone while driving, texting while driving, or even eating while driving while behind the wheel.
The department plans to publish information on the village website and use social media to communicate about the dangers of distracted driving.
Algonquin has written, through mid-March, 91 citations and 29 warnings to people for using a cellphone while driving, Sutrick said.
Sutrick said he believes accidents caused by someone on a cellphone are under-reported, and it’s usually a witness who says a driver was on a cellphone.
In 2013, there were 61 car accidents where a distraction was listed as a contributing cause. Of those accidents 48 were by a distraction inside vehicle, one was by a distraction by another electronic device, two were for texting and 10 were from a cellphone.
Sutrick said when he is off duty, he still sees people talking on their cellphones while driving.
“Some people are making an attempt to abide by the law, and using bluetooth and taking those precautions,” Sutrick said. “When I’m not in my squad [car] and just driving down the road, I always see a lot of people still on cellphones and still texting and driving.”
He said drivers need to be educated about the danger and hazards of distracted driving.
“I think they’re aware of it, but just choose to ignore it,” Sutrick said. “When stopped, most people admit ‘I know I’m not suppose to be on my phone.’”
McHenry has not conducted any special enforcements, but the department would consider it, said Deputy Chief John Birk.
“We do not have any plans to form a specialized effort as of yet, but that could change as we are now entering our busy road construction season with alternate traffic patterns and construction crews,” Birk said in an email.
So far, McHenry has issued 149 tickets and 152 warnings for talking on a cellphone while driving through April 2.
“Our goal is to deter cellphone use and provide for safe roadways of which we have issued both warnings and tickets to accomplish this,” Birk said.
By the numbers
• 1,368 citations for using an electronic device while driving through the end of March
• $120 fine to settle the ticket without going to court
• $75 maximum fine a judge can assess, plus court costs, if a driver goes to court
Source: McHenry County Circuit Clerk’s Office