The existing legal speed limit will from 65 mph to 70 mph on all rural interstates Jan. 1. However, eight counties - Cook, DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry, Lake, Madison and St. Clair - with heavily congested highways have the option to maintain the current 55 mph speed limit.
Speeding 26 mph over the posted limit will now be a tougher Class B misdemeanor and speeding 35 mph or more over the posted limit will be a Class A misdemeanor.
The use of hand-held cell phone devices behind the wheel will be prohibited. Bluetooth headsets, earpieces and voice-activated commands are permitted. The only exemptions from this law apply to law enforcement officers or first responders; drivers reporting emergencies and drivers using electronic devices while parked on the shoulder of a roadway. Violations can cost up to $75 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, $125 for a third offense and $150 for a fourth or subsequent offense. However, the ban does not include operation of a GPS or navigation system.
Penalties for distracted drivers who injure others or cause fatal crashes by the use of a cell phone 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.
Teens under the age of 19 will now face upgraded charges if they are charged with aggravated use of a wireless device. Currently, anyone under the age of 19 who causes an accident with injuries while using a wireless device will be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor. Come Jan. 1, however, they will be charged with a Class 4 Felony, according to a release from the DuPage County Sheriff's Office.
Other new laws include a ban on motorists from having any form of video device applications operating that are visible to the driver while driving.
A new Illinois law aimed at cracking down on abled-bodied motorists who abuse disabled parking permits will also take effect on Jan. 1.
The legislation provides free parking to motorists who are physically unable to access a meter or pay box because they use a wheelchair or have a severe disability. Eligible motorists will now display a yellow-and-gray colored placard to park for free at metered spaces in Chicago and throughout the state.
The new law is designed to ensure that only people with permanent physical disabilities are granted free parking while preventing fraud and abuse. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's office began issuing placards in May to motorists who meet the new criteria. Nearly 700,000 existing placard holders with disabilities applied to renew their placards.
Illinois motorists who are eligible for the new placard had to submit documentation from their primary care doctor verifying that they qualify. Given the new requirements, state officials expect that the number of disabled motorists who qualify for free parking will decline significantly. In addition, Illinoisans who are issued blue or red placards or disability license plates will no longer qualify for free parking in metered zones on any street in Illinois.
Blue placards allow motorists to park in disability-designated spaces in parking lots, not in metered parking zones, while red placards will only allow for parking in disability-designated spots in parking lots for a temporary period of time.
The law also increases the fines for unauthorized use of a disabled-parking permit to $600 from $500. Individuals who create or possess a counterfeit placard face a fine of $1,000, doubled from $500.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.