The experienced Chicago automobile accident attorneys of Passen & Powell have frequently written about the dangers of distracted driving, including the use of handheld cellphones, and even hands-free cellphones, while driving. Indeed, studies have shown that using these devices create a greatly-increased risk of an accident: even as high as a risk equivalent to the risk of driving while drunk.
Now, at last, state and local legislators have taken notice. A partial ban has been in place in Chicago for some time, but local and suburban communities are gradually passing their own laws and ordinances prohibiting cellphone use while driving.
Statewide, a bill is pending in Springfield which would prohibit handheld cellphone use while driving anywhere in Illinois. Currently, handheld phone use is banned only in school zones, construction zones, and by drivers 18 and younger. Many local ordinances are stricter: an ordinance under consideration in Evanston, for example, would ban any type of cellphone use – even hands-free – while driving.
Our experienced distracted driving lawyers support both measures, and applaud the lawmakers supporting them. Yet the Chicago Tribune, which has previously provided supportive, responsible analysis of the distracted-driving problem, inexplicably came out last week with an article claiming that there was “no conclusive data” that cellphone use has any impact on driving safety.
The Tribune acknowledges the multiple studies finding greatly increased risk of an accident for cellphone users: a 1997 study out of Toronto, Canada, a 2005 study from the British Medical Journal, a 2006 study out of the University of Utah. The Tribune even acknowledges the unsurprising fact that in states with existing bans, there has been a marked decrease in accidents caused by cellphone use.
The Tribune’s reason for questioning the use of cellphone legislation is a recent study from the University of Chicago, which looked at accident rates both before and after 9 p.m. – when a cellphone discount goes into effect, and call volume spikes. Because the accident rate did not also spike after 9 p.m., the researchers concluded that cellphone use has no effect on safety. What the Tribune did not acknowledge, however, is that far fewer drivers are on the road at this hour – which leads to a reduced risk of auto accidents not only because there are fewer cellphone accidents on the road, but also because traffic around those distracted drivers is lighter.
In fact, the Tribune even criticizes the 2006 University of Utah study by noting that the study found that switching to a hands-free device did “little” to improve driver safety. Distracted-driving experts, however, have long noted that this is because the use of a hands-free device can be almost equally distracting, albeit in a different way – a fact that the Tribune acknowledges in a separate section of the same article.
Our top distracted driving attorneys urge the Tribune to reconsider its dangerous position on this important legislation. If anything, the statewide ban does not go far enough, as it allows hands-free cellphone use to continue. The power and influence of the Tribune, properly applied, could go far in putting this important legislation into place.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago auto accident lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.