Our Chicago personal injury lawyers frequently report on the dangers of distracted driving and the various countermeasures being implemented by state and local governments to combat those dangers.
Last year, Illinois joined a growing number of states that have outlawed text messaging by drivers. Illinois’ law also makes it illegal to use hand-held cell phones in school zones and construction sites. Hand-held cell phones have been illegal in Chicago for years. Authorities have pushed the measures as a means of reducing the number of serious and fatal car accidents in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois.
Common sense might be on their side. But so far the statistics are not. As we reported previously on our Chicago Car Accident Lawyer Blog, more motorists died last year statewide (with the texting law in place) than died in 2009 when no statewide law existed. The Illinois Department of Transportation reported 923 motorists were killed on the state’s roads in 2010, compared to 911 in 2009.
Of course there is a lot more going on than the state’s new texting law — the struggling economy has been cited as a primary factor in pushing fatal traffic deaths to levels not seen since the 1920s — the numbers have almost nowhere to go but up.
But, as USA Today recently reported, there is a growing chorus that claims prohibitions against hand-held cell phone use and text messaging are not reducing distracted driving deaths — that, in fact, those deaths may be increasing. Some believe the primary reason is that hands-free cell phones are no safer than hand-held devices. While others think motorists hiding illegal texting activities below the dash actually increase their risk of an accident as their eyes are taken from the road for a longer period of time.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is the largest organization to have vocalized concerns that the government is getting sidetracked on its quest to push states to adopt strict rules against cell phones and text messaging. IIHS President Adrian Lund said distracted driving “is a growing problem in the sense of our recognition of it, but the fact is, it’s always been there.”
Many safety experts contend the data on distracted driving is too new and too unreliable. While there is ample and reliable data on how to prevent serious and fatal injuries from other types of accidents. The USA Today reports that many are unwilling to speak out against Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has repeatedly bashed the IIHS for tackling the issue last year.
LaHood said last year that the U.S. Department of Transportation is “laser focused on auto safety” and points to a number of initiatives, including a new Five-Star safety rating system and new rules to improve rear visibility in automobiles. Most of the initiatives he mentions were released in a rapid-fire series of public relations moves following IIHS criticism last year.
At the government’s prodding, some 38 states have passed laws banning cell-phone use and or text messaging by drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Eleven of those state enacted laws last year.
Neither the IIHS nor anyone else is contending cell phone use and text messaging make drivers safer behind the wheel. They are just looking for the government’s largest transportation watchdog to emphasize something other than distracted driving and defective Toyotas in 2011.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, the Chicago accident attorneys at Abels & Annes offer free consultations to discuss your rights. Call (866) 99-ABELS to speak directly to a lawyer now.