Chicago Traffic Deaths up in 2017; is it because of distracted driving or just a blip?


The Chicago Tribune has a front page story today by Mary Wisniewski about the rise in Chicago traffic deaths in 2017, 133 compared to 113 in 2016, an 18 per cent increase.

The article blames distracted driving, distracted pedestrians, low gas prices, a better economy, higher speeds and alcohol use.

But …

The story also notes that the average death toll from 2011 to 2015 was 126.2.  So why is Ms. Wisniewski comparing 2017 to one unusually low year instead of comparing it to the entire decade, which would provide a more useful comparison?  Indeed, when you combine the 2016 and 2017 death tolls and divide them by 2, you get an average of 123 — still lower than the 2011-15 average.  Maybe 2016 was just an outlier.

Comparing 2011-2015 to 2016-17, the numbers are virtually identical, within the margin of error.  But that wouldn’t be front-page worthy.

My concern is that someone in the state legislature will see the front-page headline and assume that there is a crisis when there isn’t a crisis.  This is how bad laws get enacted.

See how differently a Trooper behaves when he knows he is being recorded

I have written many times on this blog about why it is so important that citizens be allowed to video record police officers who are on duty.  This weekend, a video surfaced that shows once again why this fundamental right is so important — and also why Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez and the police unions tried so hard to keep this sort of activity a Class 1 felony.

In this video, a trucker does a gutsy thing — he honked at an Illinois State Trooper who he observed speeding while using a cell phone.  The Trooper was about to ticket the trucker for some made up offense when he was informed that the encounter was being videotaped.  After stepping away and thinking about it, the Trooper comes back and tries to soft-pedal his way into making this go away instead of becoming a viral video.

A “what-not-to-do” quadruple yutz

Last week, Nicholas Weesies got the “what-not-to-do” quadruple lutz.  This made him a quadruple yutz.

(If you are not up on your yiddish, here is the definition of a “yutz“).

His prize?  A trip to the Will County jail.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Weesies went to Bolingbrook Branch court to pay a $150 fine for a resisting or obstructing a police officer case.  While in court, his cell phone rang.  According to police, he then made “a derogatory comment” and was arrested.  During a search, police found Alprazolam and marijuana, getting him charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of cannabis.  At the time of this incident, Weesies was already on bond for another case of felony possession of a controlled substance.

So, let me break it down:

  1. If you bring your cell phone to court, make sure to put it on silent or buzz-only, or turn it off before entering the courtroom;
  2. Use proper decorum and treat people with respect when you are in a courtroom.  Be nice to everyone, especially the sheriffs and courtroom personnel, and don’t make derogatory comments (of course, this is how you should always act, but if there is ever a place where you should stifle your inner urge to tell people off, it should be in a courtroom);
  3. Don’t bring contraband to court.  There is no safe place where you can walk around in possession of illegal drugs and avoid arrest, but your chances of getting caught go up exponentially when you enter a place like a courthouse where you are subject to search at any time;
  4. When you are on bond for a felony drug case, you should be on your best behavior.  Any mis-step can get your bond revoked.  So walking around with drugs, let alone taking them to court, leaving your cell phone on ring and insulting court officers while on felony bond is a sure-fire way to find yourself in the County Jail.

Cell Phone Ban about to be imposed at Markham Courthose


This is a picture of the new storage lockers that are being installed outside the Markham courthouse — in the parking lot. These lockers will be available for people entering the courthouse to store their cell phones, tablets, laptops or other electronic devices.  Do they look big enough to contain laptops to you?  Would you like to store your cell phone or ipad outside on a cold snowy day in this?  Would you feel safe?

According to a court employee, these lockers will use fingerprint recognition technology instead of keys for their locks.  Honestly, I didn’t see anything that looked like a fingerprint sensor on any of these, but maybe I don’t know what to look for.  I wonder how that will work on the third consecutive day of below zero temperature.

I was also told that these lockers will cost $3.00 to rent.

They were being installed today.  Once they are ready to go, the cell phone/other electronic device ban will be implemented.  The ban will apply to the general public, but not jurors, judges, attorneys or other specially exempted classes of people.

Expect similar storage lockers at the other suburban courthouses soon.

The Tribune’s screed against texting at a red light

The Chicago Tribune’s John Hilkevitch and Lauren Zumbach have a lengthy screed about texting (or looking at your phone) at a red light.  I suppose our state legislature will soon ride this horse into even larger court fines and penalties.

Here is a sample:

…drivers who look at their phones while stopped in traffic are becoming increasingly familiar in Illinois and across the nation. And, according to transportation experts, police officers and researchers, the distracted driving is snarling traffic and causing many crashes, some of them likely deadly.

Illinois bans using phones in traffic in many cases and will crack down on it even more next year.

“If your foot is on the brake pedal, and you are texting, it is a violation” punishable by a fine ranging from $90 to $500 in Chicago, Chicago police Lt. Steve Sesso said. “I’ve seen people texting and putting their makeup on while stopped. There are all sorts of scenarios that you can find.”

Traffic flow disruption occurs when fewer vehicles make it through intersections during each green light, according to police officers who say they often observe more eyes at intersections pointed down than on the road.

Texting while stopped can also spark road rage in drivers delayed by the texting motorists and can lead texting motorists to pull jack-rabbit starts and other erratic maneuvers once they snap out of their reverie, according to Fred Mannering, associate director for research at Purdue University’s Center for Road Safety.

ut another way, it takes 4.6 seconds on average to read or send a text while behind the wheel, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So in less time than it takes to type “AYTMTB” (shorthand for “And you’re telling me this because”), any one of thousands of “smart” signals in Chicago and the suburbs that react to vehicle volume can change from red to green.

And a slow reaction by a texting driver to start moving — whether the vehicle is first in line or farther back — can mislead these traffic signals into thinking that vehicles on one street have cleared out and it’s time to switch the signal to allow cross traffic to move, said Mannering, a civil engineering professor who studies driver behavior and the cause and effect of traffic accidents.

“If there is as little as a two-second delay between cars, fewer cars make it through on a shortened green phase,” Mannering said. “The traffic signals become what we call ‘gapped out,’ because the detectors in the pavement think the queue has ended and no more traffic needs to get through on the green movement.”…

Besides promoting traffic congestion, texting while stopped in traffic is illegal in Illinois. Exceptions are if the driver is texting to report an emergency, using a hands-free or voice-activated device, parked on the shoulder, or stopped in traffic with the transmission in park (or neutral, for a manual transmission).

Illinois’ cellphone and texting laws are primary laws, meaning a police officer can pull over the driver without having to see another violation. Seventy-five Illinois municipalities, including Chicago, ban hand-held cellphone use for all drivers.

Effective Jan. 1, the use of hand-held devices while driving will be illegal in Illinois, except in the case of an emergency. Hands-free technology will be allowed.

Little data is available on drivers texting while stopped in traffic. But using cellphones and texting while driving, more generally, cause 1.6 million accidents a year in the United States, according to the National Safety Council.

In Illinois, almost 6,000 crashes have occurred from 2008 to 2012 in which some form of driver distraction involving a cellphone was cited by police, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The toll included 30 fatalities and more than 2,500 injuries, IDOT said.

IDOT officials call those numbers conservative and say the crashes almost certainly include drivers who were texting while stopped in traffic.

Read the whole story at:,0,3433283.story

Gov signs cell phone while driving ban, goes into effect Jan 1

From the Chicago Tribune:

Illinois drivers will have to peel the cell phones away from their ears under legislation Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law Friday that bans the use of hand-held devices behind the wheel.

Motorists could still gab and drive if they use hands-free technology to conduct their conversations. Otherwise they’ll need to pull off the road to make a call or face fines starting at $75.  The law takes effect Jan. 1.

“Too many Illinois families have suffered because of accidents that could have been prevented,” Quinn said in a statement. “Anyone driving a car should be careful, responsive and alert behind the wheel.”

Quinn’s signature means Illinois will join the ranks of about a dozen other states with similar restrictions and will allow drivers to operate under a uniform ban instead of a confusing patchwork of local laws that vary from town to town. Illinois already prohibits texting while driving.

Violators will be fined $75 for a first offense, but could pay as much as $150 for repeat offenses as well as face a moving violation on their driving record. Three moving violations within a year could lead to a driver’s license being suspended.

Drivers still could legally make calls on hand-held phones in the case of an emergency…

Meanwhile, Quinn also signed a measure into law that would increase penalties for drivers who injure or kills others in crashes caused by the use of a cell phone or other electronic device.

Distracted motorists who harm other drivers would 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.  That measure also goes into effect Jan. 1.

Illinois legislature approves cellphone while driving ban, awaits Governor’s signature

nophoneThe Illinois Senate has joined the House in passing a statewide cellphone while driving ban.  Now it it up to Governor Quinn to sign it into law.  From the Chicago Tribune:

Drivers forced to navigate a confusing patchwork of cellphone restrictions in the Chicago area will no longer have to wonder whether they are breaking the law if Gov. Pat Quinn signs a sweeping ban on hand-held devices.

Coming four years after a statewide ban on texting and driving, the new law would require motorists to keep both hands free while using a cellphone or risk a $75 fine.

For those accustomed to having a cellphone stuck to an ear while driving, it hasn’t been easy knowing where it’s legal to gab away. A Tribune survey last year of 270 municipalities showed that 76 had an ordinance governing when and how motorists could use cellphones…

“We’re still allowing you to have a conversation; just have it over the hands-free device,” [Rep. John D’Amico] said.

Motorists would be allowed to use a hand-held phone only for emergencies, and the $75 fine would be imposed for a first offense. Additional violations would be more expensive and become part of the motorist’s state driving record.

Illinois Senate passes bill to ban cell phones while driving

nophoneFrom Doug Finke of the Springfield Journal-Register:

The Illinois Senate Thursday approved a bill that bans the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

The Senate OK’d the bill on a 34-20 vote. It now goes back to the House, which earlier approved the ban, for approval of an amendment added by the Senate stipulating that a first offense for violating the law is not a moving violation.

House Bill 1247 prohibits the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, although they could still be used if the phone is equipped with a hands-free device. Motorists could also use one-touch dialing and answering if the phone is so equipped.

A violation of the law would result in a $75 fine.

More than 70 local governments already have bans in place on using hand-held cell phones will driving. Eleven states require use of hands-free phones.

“This bill is about making roads safer,” said Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, Senate sponsor of HB 1247. “I’m  concerned with people dying on the roads.”

But opponents argued that the bill is flawed and doesn’t really address the problem of distracted driving.

“I think this is going too far,” said Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. “It’s going to make a lot of criminals of individuals who are conscientious drivers. We’re not addressing people eating in cars, reading newspapers in cars, adjusting radios in cars.”

Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, agreed. He said people can get equally distracted having a conversation with passengers in the car, or parents can get distracted by children fighting in the back seat.

“Where do we draw the line about where these distractions are?” Murphy said.

Mulroe countered with statistics showing that drivers who use hand-held cell phones are four times more likely to get into serious crashes. Crashes decreased by 17 percent in Evanston after the city banned hand-held cell phones while driving, he said.

The state has already banned texting while driving, and drivers under age 18 are prohibited from using cell phones while driving. Nationally, large truck and bus drivers are prohibited from using phones while driving.

Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, found it curious that use of a hand-held cell phone in a car would be outlawed while truck drivers could still used CB radios that require the use of their hands.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, acknowledged he uses a hand-held cell phone in order to talk to constituents while driving around his sprawling, 11 county Senate district.

“I spend a lot of time on the road. I use that time to talk to constituents,” Sullivan said.

But Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, said lawmakers often enact laws after someone dies tragically. This is an opportunity to act proactively, he said.

Springfield-area senators Sullivan, Sam McCann, R-Carlinville, and Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, all voted against the bill. Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, voted in favor of it.

What do you think?

Another rant about the Cook County Cellphone ban

Here is another of what I am sure will be a continuing series about problems or inconveniences caused by the Cook County ban preventing the general public from bringing cellphones into courthouses.
Today was a busy day on my calendar.  This tends to happen to attorneys in my line of practice from time to time.
Here was my schedule:

    8:30    two cases in Wheaton, that were set for status and continuances were expected;
    9:00    a felony case in Markham, where client was to appear before the Presiding judge in one courtroom, then be assigned to another judge in another courtroom for arraignment;
    10:00    three felony cases at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse at 26th Street, two of which were in front of Judge “O” (who usually starts court at 10:15)

Since I do not have the power of teleportation or the ability to split myself into two, I had another attorney appear on my behalf in Markham at 9:00 to handle the arraignment while I planned to go to DuPage and then 26th Street.

As I pulled into the Henry Hyde Judicial Center in Wheaton, I saw that I had a message from the Assistant State’s Attorney for Judge O’s courtroom.  She said that the judge was not going to be in court today, and that another judge was using his courtroom for a jury trial.  If my clients could be there at 9:00, before the jury trial started, she would give my clients continuances to whatever date I wanted.

Problem 1: Trying to contact my clients, when I had reminded them last night not to bring their phones to the courthouse.

Next, I received a text from the attorney handling my case in Markham.  It was 9:30 and she said my client had not arrived.  The case had already been assigned, and the file was heading to the new courtroom.  

Problem 2: Where was my client?  I tried to call and text my client, but I did not receive a response.  I later found out that he was inside the court building, and had left his phone in his car.  For whatever reason, the attorney wasn’t seeing him, but she did shortly thereafter and it wasn’t much of a problem.  This time.    

Quite frankly, this is getting aggravating, and it has only just begun.  How am I supposed to communicate with my clients and tell them where to go or where I am, if they can’t bring phones with them to the courthouse?