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Legislation Targets Watching TV While Driving

Alex Weimer
Flickr.com/americanbackroom (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

The Illinois law meant to prohibit distracted driving may not prohibit watching videos behind the wheel, so state lawmakers are trying to change it.

State Sen. Steve Stadelman, a Democrat from Caledonia, says he’s seen it himself.

“I’m always amazed when you’re driving down the interstate or you’re stopped at an intersection and people are watching their phones and watching videos,” he says. “People used to watch videos on the TV set, but with these smartphones, you can do so many different things.”

Current law forbids “using an electronic communications device,” which it defines as a mobile phone, personal digital assistant, or computer. But it‘s silent on what “using” consists of.

Stadelman‘s legislation gets specific:

In this Section, "using an electronic communication device" includes: (1) holding a personal electronic device in either hand or both hands; (2) using a hand or finger to compose, send, read, view, access, browse, transmit, save or retrieve email, text messages, instant messages, photographs, or other electronic data; and (3) watching video on a personal electronic device. "Using an electronic communication device" does not include the minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of the device.

A separate law already prohibits driving if a television or video screen is operating where the driver can see it. Stadelman's legislation would expand that list to include “video devices” such as cell phones, laptops and electonic games. It makes exceptions for GPS systems, radios, and devices that are physically or electronically integrated into vehicles.

“It’s a dangerous situation, so whatever we can do as far as the state of Illinois to discourage that and explicitly state that watching videos is not allowed, that’s what this legislation's all about,” Stadelman says.

At the beginning of the year, using a cell phone while driving went from a petty offense to a moving violation. That means three or more offenses can lead to a suspended driver’s license.

The Illinois State Police says distracted driving was a factor in the high number of squad cars being struck this year. Three troopers have been killed in crashes, two while stopped on the side of the road.

The legislation is Senate Bill 86. It passed the Senate last week on a vote of 51-0 and can now be considered in the Illinois House.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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