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Merry Christmas: Ban on Driving with Handheld Electronic Devices

Most people who live in Illinois and have access to radio, TV, the Internet or newspapers know that the law banning handheld electronic devices while driving goes into effect January 1, 2014. Of course, ignorance of the law is no excuse, Rip van Winkles and cave dwellers included. “But officer, I didn’t know” will not get you a free pass.

Since electronic devices in all shapes and sizes have become practically attached to the limbs of modern man and woman, a person might want to pay attention to the details of this law.

The rule is simple: “A person may not operate a motor vehicle on a roadway while using an electronic communication device.” Prepare for separation anxiety or make plans now.

The law covers practically all handheld electronic devices, defined as “electronic communication device[s]”. While the phrase suggests a phone-like device, the definition includes wireless phones, “personal digital assistant[s]” and computers. It is safe to say that any device that communicates with the operator, or the operator with it, is covered. (Does anyone really believe that playing Word with Friends on a Kindle while driving is safe?)

The definition specifically excludes “a global positioning system or navigation system or device that is physically or electronically integrated into the motor vehicle.” (One might wonder how such a device could be considered “handheld” in the first place, but I will not go there.) The obvious question is whether handheld devices that can be mounted on a dashboard or other surface of a vehicle will be excluded. The opinion of this author is, yes, as the exception applies both to “physically” integrated or “electronically” integrated devices.

A first offense is considered a “non-moving violation”. The significance of that provisions is that a first offense will not count against the driving record, but each subsequent offense will be considered a moving violation (like speeding). When a person accumulates too many moving violations within a prescribed period of time, the result can be suspension or even revocation of a driver’s license. The fines are prescribed as follows: 1st offense – $75; 2nd offense – $100; 3rd offense – $125; and 4th and subsequent offenses – $150 each. Court costs get tacked on if the fines are not paid before the court date.

The exceptions are important to note. An electronic device can be used for the purpose of reporting and communicating during an emergency. Electronic devices can be used in “hands-free” or “voice-operated” modes. Drivers are allowed to read messages on a permanently installed device designed for commercial motor vehicle use. Electronic devices can be used while parked on the shoulder of the road. Devices can be used when traffic is stopped and the vehicle is in “neutral” or “park”. Devices that require pressing a single button to initiate or end a call are allowed. Radio and music players, two-way CB and amateur radio devices, fleet management systems, and the like are also allowed (but there is some question that your iPhone or Droid will count as a “music player”).

One thing is clear, even if parts of the new law leave some definition to be desired: most people will need to plan for the new law taking effect in January. Many new vehicles come with Bluetooth and GPS and navigation capabilities built in, but even now those features are usually provided only in the upgrade packages. Those features may still not be available in many vehicles. For that reason, a dash mounted receptacle is likely to be considered “physically integrated” into the vehicle for purposes of the law. Most people, however, (judging simply by observation) do not have dash mounted receptacles for their phones and other devices.

Therefore, if you are in need of a Christmas gift for your loved ones, consider dash-mounted receptacles for handheld electronic devices, or put them on your own Christmas lost. I imagine that the manufactures of those accessories are excited about this Christmas that is just around the corner. You also might want to do your shopping before the stores run out.

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Kevin G. Drendel

The Drendel & Jansons Law Group | 111 Flinn Street Batavia, IL 60542 | 630-523-0543 | |