Amendments to the Illinois Vehicle Code prohibit the use of all hand-held mobile communication devices while driving. If a person is using an electronic communication device—including a hand-held cell phone, a personal digital assistant, or a mobile computer—while operating a motor vehicle in violation of the hands-free provision, and is involved in a motor vehicle accident that results in great bodily harm or death to another, it is a misdemeanor offense. The vehicle code already bans texting while driving.
Employers should consider the possibility of liability for the actions of employees who are not complying with the law while driving when working, as the vehicle code allows for the imposition of criminal penalties if the employer directs or otherwise knowingly permits an employee to act in violation of the law.
The vehicle code was amended by two bills. The first, House Bill (HB) 1247, was enacted as Public Act 98-0506, and amended 625 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/12-610.2. Although it prohibits the use of all hand-held devices while driving on Illinois roads, it makes exception for hands-free devices, including those with headsets that can initiate a call using a single button or a voice command. There also are exceptions for the use of cell phones by law enforcement officers, those who utilize a cell phone to report an emergency, and for those who are stopped in traffic so long as their motor vehicle is in neutral or park.
Another exception is for the driver of a commercial motor vehicle who is reading a message displayed on a permanently installed communication device designed for a commercial motor vehicle with a screen that does not exceed 10 inches tall by 10 inches wide in size.
The second law, HB 2585, was enacted as Public Law 98-0507. It amended 625 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/12-604.1. This law increased penalties for drivers whose use of an electronic device—including a television or video monitor or screen—while driving causes an accident, including possible prison time. If the accident causes great bodily harm, the driver can be sentenced to up to one year in prison. A fatal accident can result in a prison sentence of one to three years. Previous law only allowed these drivers to be charged with traffic violations.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed both laws Aug. 16, 2013, and both laws took effect Jan. 1, 2014.
Susan R. Heylman, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C. area.