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Did you know nationwide 3,522 people lost their lives because of distracted driving? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in 2021, more than three thousand people died because of a growing epidemic of people texting, driving, and being distracted while behind the wheel.
Here in Park Forest, the police department is doing its part to crack down on distracted drivers. Park Forest Police Chief Paul Winfrey said Village enforcement of distracted driving began “some time ago,” and years before the state took similar action.
In May of 2010, Park Forest board members voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance banning driving while on a cell phone. State officials passed a similar measure almost four years later in January of 2014.
Winfrey said a distracted driver crashed earlier this month as the motorist swerved and struck a house. No one was injured in the accident, but Winfrey said this is another example of how distracted driving could be deadly.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and Park Forest’s police chief says the Village is continuing to keep tabs on the issue.
"Our personnel enforces the state's distracted driving laws year-round, and we received a grant from IDOT/NHTSA to conduct additional distracted driving enforcement throughout April," Winfrey said.
By definition, distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment, or navigation system — anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.
Winfrey added the term distracted driving is the generic term that is used for the actual statute 625 ILCS 5/12-610.2, which prohibits the use of electronic device while operating a motor vehicle (talking other than hands-free, texting, emailing, watching videos, or wearing headphones.
Winfrey said traffic ticket fines could vary, but court costs (assessed to all citations in which a driver is convicted) in Cook County are currently approximately $256. These costs would be in addition to any punitive fine ordered by the judge. In addition, districted driving is a "moving violation," which can result in higher insurance costs and counts toward suspending a person's driver's license.
The NHTSA said texting is the most alarming distraction and estimates that sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
Winfrey said any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction, increases your risk of crashing, and is illegal in Illinois.
Winfrey added, "If your phone is in your hand while driving, you will be stopped."