News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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December 25, 2013

Illinois hands-free driving law starts Jan. 1

Many newer cars come with equipment to connect to cell phones

TERRE HAUTE — Beginning with the new year, motorists traveling in Illinois must use hands-free devices if talking on a cellular telephone while driving.

The new state law allows the use of Bluetooth headsets, earpieces and voice-activated commands.

And if motorists are on a rural section of a highway, the state’s speed limit will increase to 70 mph from 65 mph, putting the state in line with neighboring Indiana. However, Illinois has also increased penalties for speeding.

Steve Guess, chief deputy at the Edgar County Sheriff’s Department, said his department has already been in discussions with deputies about the new laws.

“I think there will be an educational period before we start writing tickets” for hands-free cell devices, Guess said. “I think there will be some transition time to let people know about the new law. I can’t say it will be the first month, but it will be some period of time, and that will be done case by case. If someone already has a warning for it, then it will be an enforcement issue.

“I think this is an effort to reduce distracted driving. I hope it helps,” Guess said.

Hands-free, voice-activated devices have been a standard on most Ford vehicles since at least 2010, said Jack Davidson, general manager at Lincoln Trail Ford Mercury in Marshall, Ill.

“It is available on all of our systems, even down to the Ford Focus, which has that capability,” Davidson said.

Davidson said customers currently are not asking about the capability as it has been a standard on the vehicles for a few years.

“We probably will have some ask about it when it becomes more obvious” about the new state law, he said. “Ford has been very up on the electronics.”

The law has brought many questions from cell phone customers at The Cellular Connection in Marshall.

“People have been asking what is our best product for hands-free because they know they have to have it after the first of the year, what Bluetooth device works best with which phone,” said Jo Liggett, a sales representative.

The biggest sellers are Bluetooth devices.

“We can’t keep them in stock. It has been this way for the last month or month and a half,” Liggett said.

There’s good reason to get the devices. Motorists who do not use hands-free devices face a maximum fine of $75 for the first offense; $100 for the second offense; $125 for the third offense; and $150 for the fourth or subsequent offense.

The only exceptions to the hands-free law applies to law enforcement officers or first responders; drivers reporting emergencies; and drivers using electronic devices while parked on the shoulder of a roadway.

Distracted drivers who injure others or cause fatal crashes from the use of a cell phone could face a class-A misdemeanor, which could result in fines up to $2,500 and less than a year of jail time. Drivers involved in fatal accidents could be charged with a class-4 felony, which carries fines up to $25,000 and up to three years of jail time, according to the Illinois State Police, which last week began issuing safety reminders of the new laws.

All rural highways will have speed limits increased to 70 mph; however, the state law allows eight counties — Cook, DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry, Lake, Madison and St. Clair, each with heavily congested highways — to opt out and maintain the current 55 mph speed limit, said Trooper Tammy Welborn, safety education officer and media liaison for District 12, based in Effingham, Ill.

“In addition to the rural interstates, speed laws have been strengthened on all streets, highways and roads throughout Illinois,” she said. “Speeding 26 mph over the posted limit is now a class-B misdemeanor, and speeding 35 mph or more over the posted limit is a class-A misdemeanor.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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