Could Police Begin Spying on Drivers Suspected of Texting Here in Naperville and Surrounding DuPage County?

As a car accident lawyer, I am always looking at what makes us less safe on the road. At the top of this list is distracted driving. In Illinois, drivers are generally allowed to use cell phones, but are prohibited from using cell phones, hand held or otherwise, when driving in a school zone or when driving in a highway construction zone. Recently, Illinois tightened these restrictions and prohibited all hand held cell phone use while driving.

Texting – the most dangerous form of distracted driving – has long been prohibited in Illinois. Exceptions to the prohibition from texting while driving are quite limited: reporting an emergency situation and continued communication with emergency personnel during the emergency situation; using a device in hands-free or voice-activated mode; if the driver is parked on the shoulder of a roadway; or when the vehicle is stopped due to normal traffic being obstructed and the driver has the motor vehicle transmission in neutral or park. Absent an exception, texting is prohibited.

Although illegal, texting is a difficult traffic violation to detect. It is believed that there are car accidents every day that caused by distracted drivers who were texting; however, many of these violations are difficult to detect and prove. The prevention of texting is so important that it has inspired the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) to make a $550,000 grant to Connecticut and Massachusetts to allow spying on drivers.

The federal grant announced by NHTSA allows Connecticut and Massachusetts police to test new anti-texting methods using spies. The NHTSA grant enables the states to hire “spotters on overpasses” to identify distracted drivers who are texting while driving. The program is similar to other detecting methods already in place. For instance, police in North Dakota have used SUVs and other large vehicles with site lines into the driver’s seat of a moving vehicle in order to monitor compliance with anti-texting legislation. The NHTSA grant is simply the latest and newest method used to prevent and detect texting while driving. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, only 1,200 tickets were issued in Minneapolis for texting violations in 2011; compared to 200,000 tickets for speeding. Police in many cities hope to increase the number texting convictions in the future.

Many safety groups have called for a complete ban on cellphone use while driving. However, state legislatures often lack the desire to further restrict the use of cell phones, and there is very little guidance at the federal level. The NHTSA spying program is among the first that will allow the federal government to make an impact by providing resources to begin anti-texting spying campaigns. Given the importance of texting prevention, a similar spy program could be coming to Naperville and other cities in Illinois.

If you have been injured by a driver distracted by cell phone use, please contact attorney John J. Malm to discuss a possible case against the driver.