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The New Illinois Cell Phone Law

Each year, there is a plethora of new legislation signed into law that affects trucking.  In recent years, there has been a lot of revision work done on truck laws, but calendar year 2012 did not see as much new legislative work as in years past.  Ironically, the most anticipated bill in Illinois was the passage of Public Act 97-0829 which made hand-held phone use and texting illegal in commercial motor vehicles.  But wasn’t that already illegal?

At the end of 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration created new rules governing the use of cell phones by drivers of commercial motor vehicles.  These rules did not get passed without controversy and misunderstanding though.  Much confusion centered on exemptions to the law such as emergency situations and use of 2-way radio phones.  In Illinois, the biggest confusion about the new cell phone law was in regards to who could enforce it.  The ITEA wrote an article about the new federal law last year…you can read it HERE.

Illinois has a separation of authority between local truck enforcement officers and the Illinois State Police.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) are under the sole enforcement authority of the Illinois State Police, meaning local truck officers (city and county) cannot cite them.  The ITEA spent 10 weeks this past summer discussing this topic in detail.  You can read these articles by clicking HERE.

After the federal rule enactment, if a CMV driver went past a local Illinois police officer with a phone to his ear, there was nothing the local officer could do about it (unless it was a school or construction zone).  The FMCSA gave each state three years to become compliant with the law.  In a surprise to all, the Illinois General Assembly quickly took up the challenge and passed the necessary legislation to make the law a state violation…in the first year!  This means all police officers in Illinois, local and state, can enforce a uniform hand-held cell phone and texting ban on CMV drivers starting 01 January 2013.

An important thing to remember is that a violation of this law will not directly correlate to a carrier’s CSA (Compliance-Safety-Acountability) score just because the driver received a citation.  Any Illinois State Trooper who cites the driver under the appropriate FMCSR statute and completes a motor carrier safety inspection automatically reports the violation to CSA.  Local police officers will be writing the citation under the State code, not the FMCSR.  No motor carrier safety inspections will be completed and therefore not reported directly through state channels into CSA.

However, a local police officer citing a violation of the state version of this law has a different twist.  This new law has been written as a “serious traffic violation”.  This means that CDL holders can be disqualified for convictions of the hand-held phone law.  The conviction for this offense will show up on the driver’s MVR and could indirectly affect CSA scores.

The alert reader will note that texting has already been outlawed in Illinois for all drivers, including those operating CMVs.  This new law puts more teeth into the language for truckers by adding texting in the CDL chapter of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Chapter 6), not just in the movement of vehicles chapter (Chapter 11).  Texting not only includes generic SMS/MMS messages, but emails, instant messages or any other messaging conveyed through the internet.

There are two exemptions built into this new law, for both hand-held phone use and texting.  The first exemption is the CMV must actually be operated.  Operation does not include a driver who has pulled safely over onto a shoulder or off the highway.   At this point, a driver can lawfully talk or text.  The second exemption is for a driver to talk or text in direct communication with police officers or other emergency service personnel.  Any violation of this law requires a cash bail of $120 or an Illinois driver’s license.

Much controversy still surrounds the unequal prohibition on hand-held cell phone use between CMV drivers and regular car drivers.  However, this is the law as it stands today.  As time goes on, it seems inevitable that all drivers will eventually be held to same standards of distracted driving.

Side note to all ITEA members: there is a new board on the forum where we are posting free, online quizzes to help you better understand trucking laws and regulations.  Click HERE to login and you will be redirected to the correct page.  The first quiz is posted…new laws for 2013!!


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