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How to deal with the new Illinois ban on texting while driving
By Chuck Goudie | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 12/28/2009 12:04 AM

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If you drive in Chicago and believe this week is the last fling for texting-while-at-the-wheel, think again.

Surprise! It has been illegal for more than a year to send a text message or e-mail or to access the Internet while driving anywhere in Chicago.

I don't think many people realize there has been a citywide texting ban in effect since Chicago aldermen passed the ordinance in October 2008. It was intended to supplement the city's 4-year-old ban on the use of cell phones without a hands-free device, but really didn't get much attention.

Some stunned texting and surfing motorists have been fined from $75 to $200, but as with the city's cell phone ban, it is not a priority of police who have more serious violent crime issues to handle.

More recently, Chicago's texting ban was copied by members of the Illinois General Assembly, who passed a statewide prohibition that goes into effect on New Year's Day. This Friday, Jan. 1, motorists from Carpentersville to Carbondale and from East Moline to Elk Grove Village, will have to park their mobile devices unless their car is parked - or at least pulled over and not in gear.

And here are another couple of little-known points about the new state law: Police can pull you over just for texting and the law doesn't prohibit officers from examining your cell phone or Blackberry if they suspect you have been surfing the Internet, instant messaging or texting.

Even though there is scant research specifically on texting-while-driving wrecks, eventually the ban will probably extend from sea to shining sea. For now Illinois is the 17th state to outlaw texting.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports estimate that more than a quarter of the nation's 1.2 million crashes per year involve drivers not paying attention ... but that includes everything from reading the newspaper to applying mascara.

Early studies suggest the risk of a crash or near-accident is 23 times higher for a motorist who is text-messaging while driving. Because cell phones have been used for years, there is more research available. Studies show that drivers using mobile phones while driving are four times more likely to be involved in personal-injury accidents than non-phone-using drivers.

As with drunken driving laws that have been on the books for eons, the impact on accident rates will become clear only when police began rigorous enforcement action. That will undoubtedly take some time.

Nevertheless, in an era of over-regulation and dangerous levels of government interference, this is one law that makes sense.

As an avid texter and a daily driver, like many of you, I am just one instant message away from a rear-end collision or sideswiping the guy in the lane next to me.

For many motorists, texting while driving is almost like a personal game of "chicken," where you type and text with your hands while steering with your knees - not knowing when bad luck and bad timing will intersect.

Now though, since Crackberry-addicted drivers are being criminalized, it might be a good time to quit cold-turkey.

Continuing the season's spirit of giving, here are a few ideas for going on the wagon before the wagon you're driving veers into a ditch.

Of course the most effective method of following the new ban on texting while driving is to simply turn off the confounded device. Maybe Michelle Obama can start a White House campaign to "Just Switch It Off" to mimic Nancy Reagan's useful but ridiculed effort to "Just Say No" to illegal drugs.

Anticipating there would be regulations banning the use of phone and other devices to text while driving, you would think some clever equipment seller such as Verizon or Sprint would market a function to deal with it. If there has been such a campaign, I haven't seen it.

There are applications - or "apps" as iPhone devotees annoyingly call them - for everything except instructions on using foreign pay toilets.

So why isn't there a universal, single-push button that will initiate an automated, instant reply: "I am currently driving and unable to reply right now. I will respond as soon as possible."

Then there is my invention for those who can't quite break the addiction suddenly. It allows you to obey the law but still keep the phone on in case of an emergency or the need to pull over and check in.

My contraption is inexpensive, effective, easy to use, requires no batteries or skill and this time of year - when the north wind cuts through your car windows like butter - also has a needed secondary result.

I call my creation "The Inhibitor."

But you know something? They look an awful lot like mittens.

• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by e-mail at chuckgoudie@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie.