Illinois urges 'Drive Now. Text Later'

January 31, 2011 2:55:40 PM PST
A new, statewide campaign is under way to cut down on the number of crashes connected to cell phone use.

The campaign-- "Drive Now. Text Later." -- will try to make more drivers aware of the dangers involved when talking or texting while behind the wheel. The idea comes after the state says it looked at an online survey that showed that 40 percent of Illinois Tollway drivers do not know that it is illegal to text or e-mail while driving on Illinois roads--this after hundreds of accidents where texting or e-mail became part of a factor of causing those crashes.

Officials say they had no choice but to warn the public.

"This new challenge comes as a result of technology, and at face value, nothing really inherently dangerous, just your cell phone or your Blackberry. Let's be honest, texting and e-mailing isn't going to go away anytime soon and neither is talking on the phone," said Kristi Lafleur, Illinois Tollway Authority executive director.

January 1, 2011, marked the one-year anniversary of the state law that prohibits sending or reading text messages while driving in Illinois.

The public awareness campaign will include posters, billboards, as well as a website warning drivers about driving while distracted. It's a partnership involving several state agencies and also a trooper who was injured by a distracted driver on February 27 of last year while conducting a traffic stop.

"It's very important because a lot of people were affected," said Illinois State Trooper Starlena Wilson. "My family was affected. I was affected, and I just want people to know that when you are behind the wheel, you should pay attention to driving only. The text message can wait."

The February 27, 2010 accident left Wilson with a fractured leg, a broken hip and other serious injuries. After nearly a year of recovery, she's back on the job in an administrative role as several Illinois agencies band launch an effort to increase awareness about the dangers of texting while driving.

"Not only is it dangerous, but it's not illegal in the state of Illinois," said Lafleur.

Campaign officials hope to especially target the 40 percent of Tollway drivers. A recent online survey showed did not know texting while driving was against the law in Illinois.

"They're thinking about what they are going to say. They're concerned about their sentence structure and their spelling and then they have the keys. The question is who's driving the car? No one," said Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State.

Preliminary data in Illinois indicates that in the first half of 2010 alone cell phone distractions including texting were the primary or secondary cause of more than 500 vehicle crashes. In 2009, cell phone distractions caused nearly 1,300 accidents. That's an increase of more than 9 percent over 2008.

"Out there on the roadway, it takes your mind off of the road, your hands off the wheel and your eyes off of driving," said Beth Mosher, AAA Chicago.

While the public awareness campaign features a website along with posters at tollbooth, oases, and rest stops, Trooper Wilson hopes to be a living example distracted motorists will heed.

"When you are behind the wheel to pay attention to driving. The text message can wait," said Wilson.

Wilson says she would like to eventually return to field work, but doesn't know when they might be. The driver who struck her was convicted of aggravated reckless driving and sentenced to six months in prison.