…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.