"Drop It and Drive” is a motto commonly used by a campaign against distracted driving, but now the saying can be seen lighting up signs along the highway. While it should always be a thought, the message is increasingly more significant now that there are stricter laws in place for texting and driving.
On July 1, Illinois police will crack down even harder on texting and driving in a statewide effort to prevent one of the leading causes of death and crashes; distracted driving.
According to Illinois State University Police Chief Aaron Woodruff, this is nothing new, but rather a modification to laws that have already been in place.
The pre-existing penalty in place for drivers that are caught texting while behind the wheel would let drivers off with a “non-moving” violation for their first offense, which was essentially a warning, followed by a “moving” violation for any offenses following that.
Now, with the new modifications in place, a driver caught using their phone while operating a motor vehicle, even if that means changing a song, will be issued a moving violation and a fine of $75. For a second offense the fine increases to $100 and for a third, $125. By the time a driver reaches three distracted driving offenses, their license will be suspended for a minimum of 30 days.
"Awareness is a key part of this," said Woodruff. "If drivers are aware of the repercussions of their actions, they are less likely to repeat them...but we know this still remains a problem."
Even with the new modifications, Woodruff believes if they are unable to prevent distracted driving with laws such as this, that it will take a balance of enforcement and possibly advances in technology, such as cars that won't operate unless the phone is shut off and stored away.
"But anything we can do to reduce this problem is always good," he added. "Saving lives is an important goal of ours."
Although there is a grey area when it comes to enforcing distracted driving laws, Woodruff explained that any type of manipulating with a phone is cause for a citation.
"My best advice is to just put the phone down," he said.
The Normal Police Department has been cracking down on distracted drivers with on-foot postings near intersections because contrary to popular belief, texting or being on your phone at a stop sign or red light is still technically illegal.
Yet, texting and driving is not the only concern that drivers will have when getting behind the wheel. Also going into effect July 1 is the gas tax increase.
With the newly approved legislation, gas taxes have increased from 19 cents to 38 cents per gallon. There was also an increase in the diesel fuel tax rising from 2.5 cents to 7.5 cents per gallon. While the tax increase was a bipartisan vote, many were opposed to increasing more taxes as residents are already paying what is considered one of the highest combined state and local taxes in the nation.
The motor fuel tax was doubled in an effort to increase revenue in the state which will go towards paying for road, bridge and transit construction, according to the capital spending plan.
Other laws that go into effect July 1 include the new tobacco law which increased the age of buying tobacco from 18 to 21 years or older. There is also a $1 increase in taxes on cigarettes, bringing the total tax to $2.98 per pack. E-cigs were included in that tax and will be taxed at 15 percent. The revenue from these increased taxes will also go towards assisting capital spending.