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Kadner: Sign warns of distracted driving zone

A big electronic sign north side 159th Street  about 7500 West visible when you are driving westbound thstates

A big electronic sign on the north side of 159th Street, at about 7500 West, visible when you are driving westbound, that states "This is a distracted driving zone." in Orland Park, IL on Tuesday March 5, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 7, 2013 6:22AM



The electronic sign on the side of the road flashed that I was entering a “distracted driving zone.”

Distracted by the warning, I began scanning the road ahead for police cars.

There weren’t any in sight, but it won’t be long before Orland Park police along 159th Street begin aggressively enforcing laws that prohibit motorists from texting while driving.

“I’m glad you saw the sign,” said Lt. Tim McCormick, chief of the police department’s enforcement division.

I don’t know how you can miss the thing. It’s about 6 feet tall.

“We’ve had it up on 159th Street (on the north side of the street a couple of blocks west of Harlem Avenue) since Friday,” McCormick said. “We wanted to notify motorists that we’re going to begin an enforcement action and put them on notice.”

The state law against texting while driving has been in effect since Jan. 1, 2010. That same law makes it illegal to talk on a cellphone wile driving through highway construction or a school zone.

Last week, the Illinois House approved a bill that would ban the use of handheld cellphones by motorists except in emergencies, but that has yet to clear the Senate.

McCormick said Orland Park police decided to target 159th Street for enforcement because it’s one of the two busiest streets in the village (LaGrange Road is the other), and there have been a large number of “crashes” on the road (although he couldn’t come up with a number during our phone conversation).

I asked him how many of those accidents could be directly attributed to texting or cellphone use.

“It’s difficult to come up with a number because people lie,” McCormick said.

So proving a distracted driving case in court could be difficult?

“All you have to do is look over at the person next to you at a stoplight, and chances are you’ll see a person texting,” he said. “The next time you’re out driving, just look around and see how many motorists are on a cellphone.”

I don’t have to make a special effort to spot such motorists. Every time I drive I see them.

Years ago, if a car was weaving or creeping way below the speed limit, I thought, “drunken driver!” Now I think, “cellphone user.”

And McCormick is right. I’ve looked out the side window of my car more than once and noticed that the driver in the lane next to mine was tapping out a message on a hand-held electronic device.

The idiot’s attention is not only focused on the message he’s sending, but he doesn’t even have a hand on the steering wheel.

“We want people to know that in the near future we will be making a special effort to issue tickets on 159th Street from approximately 7100 West to 84th Avenue,” McCormick said.

Why give the warning?

“Our object isn’t to give people tickets but to make sure they understand and obey the law. We want to reduce traffic accidents,” McCormick said. “Nevertheless, there will be a lot of people out there who violate the law.”

McCormick said Orland Park launched a similar effort, targeting motorists who refused to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and despite advance warning “we issued 70 tickets over two hours in (each of) two days.

“One location was near the Metra station at 179th Street and Southwest Highway, and commuters leaving the train were stranded on the median as cars whizzed by in both directions. No one was willing to stop. It was extremely dangerous.”

Tickets for text messaging will not be adjudicated via administrative hearings in Orland Park, McCormick warned, but in the Cook County court system. Under the law, a motorist could be fined anywhere from $75 to $1,000 per violation.

It’s illegal to compose, send or read text messages, instant messages and email on a cellphone or surf the Internet while driving, according to the law. The ban also includes digital assistants and portable or mobile computers but does not include GPS devices.

People complain about government interference in their personal lives all the time, but this is a perfect example of how people behaving in an irresponsible manner force the government to intervene.

Cellphones are great. Anyone who has gotten lost trying to find an address in an unfamiliar neighborhood knows how handy they can be.

It’s useful when children, elderly relatives or colleagues at work need to touch base in a crisis.

But most phone calls aren’t of that nature. A lot of people simply use them to gossip, make small talk, pass the time.

And text messaging compounds all of those problems because you can’t read or write and pay attention to traffic.

Heck, driving is probably the most dangerous thing people do on a daily basis, and there were enough distractions before electronic communications devices came into our lives.

At least three times in the last year, I was waiting at a stop sign on a side street when another driver made a turn off a thoroughfare into my lane.

They each turned the steering wheel of their vehicles at the last minute, avoiding a collision, but none of the three bothered to pull the phone away from their ears. One driver even smiled at me and shrugged her shoulders.

Orland Park will soon be doing a special enforcement action on 159th Street to stop motorists from texting when they drive.

I hope the message gets across, and people realize it’s not only illegal but stupid.

No one should die because someone felt the need to read or respond to a text message.

Put that up on a flashing sign.



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