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New Illinois cellphone law may be better than most, study suggests

In Illinois, texting while driving has been barred for nearly five years, and a newly adopted measure makes it illegal to use a handheld cellphone for almost any purpose while driving. A recent study from the University of Alabama’s School of Public Health provides some promising insights into what makes an effective distracted driving law. The study was published in the American Journal of Public health in August 2014.

The new Illinois distracted driving law, which went into effect on January 1, 2014, prohibits drivers from using most cellphones and other portable electronic devices unless the device is in hands-free or voice-controlled mode. Typically, the study shows, cellphone restrictions for drivers are most effective when they target a wide range of activities rather than just texting and emailing. Thus, Illinois may see a more substantial reduction in the number of distracted driving accidents as a result of the ban.

Texting while driving

Although the new portion of the Illinois distracted driving law does not specifically create new restrictions on texting while driving, it may nevertheless help to further reduce texting-related crashes. This is because the new law simplifies enforcement by establishing that handheld cellphone use is almost always against the law.

Previously, police in Illinois often had difficulty proving that a driver suspected of texting was not actually using the phone for a non-prohibited purpose, such as dialing a phone number. As a result, the deterrent effect of the texting ban was arguably more limited. Now that drivers no longer have an easy excuse to fall back on to avoid being ticketed, they may be more likely to think twice about texting while driving.

Targeting novice drivers

The recent study also suggests that distracted driving laws may be most effective at preventing cellphone-related traffic fatalities when they target teenagers and novice drivers specifically, as opposed to creating a blanket restriction for all drivers.

The new Illinois handheld law applies equally to drivers of all ages and experience levels. However, under an existing state law, drivers under the age of 18 were already barred from using handheld phones for any non-emergency purpose. By having a general ban on handheld phone use along with additional restrictions for teen drivers, Illinois may be getting the best of both worlds in terms of crash prevention.

Enforcing the distracted driving ban

Another variable that makes some cellphone restrictions more effective than others is whether police are permitted to stop drivers and ticket them specifically for using their phones in an illegal way.