Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Aug. 16 signed into law two bills aimed at combating distracted driving: one prohibits the use of all hand-held mobile phones while driving on Illinois roads, and the other increases penalties on drivers whose behind-the-wheel use of an electronic device leads to an accident.

Under the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, fines for a first offense are $75. Penalties increase by $25 for subsequent offenses to a maximum of $150.

Calls made to report an emergency situation are exempt from the law.

“Too many Illinois families have suffered because of accidents that could have been prevented," Quinn said. "Anyone driving a car should be careful, responsive and alert behind the wheel. These new laws will save lives.”

House Bill 1247, sponsored by State Representative John D’Amico (D-Chicago) and State Senator John Mulroe (D-Chicago), prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle on any road in Illinois while using a mobile phone or other electronic communication device. The bill makes exceptions for hands-free devices, including those with headsets that can initiate a call using a single button or a voice command. 

The new law strengthens Illinois' 2009 law that banned sending or reading text messages while driving.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, drivers using hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into an accident causing injuries, and distracted driving caused 387,000 injuries and more than 3,000 fatalities across the country in 2011.

Illinois joins 11 other states and the District of Columbia in banning the use of hand-held devices while driving. 

“When people get behind the wheel, they have a responsibility to themselves and to others to drive safely,” D’Amico said. “When motorists are on the phone, they are not giving their full attention to the most important task they have. This law will help reduce traffic accidents and make Illinois roads safer.”

House Bill 2585, sponsored by State Representative Natalie Manley (D-Joliet) and State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), increases the penalties that can be imposed on drivers whose use of an electronic device while driving causes an accident. If the accident causes great bodily harm, the driver can be sentenced to up to one year in prison, and a fatal accident can result in a prison sentence of one to three years. Current law only allows these drivers to be charged with traffic violations. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2014.

“After passing legislation to ban the use of cell phones in work and school zones, I felt that we needed to enhance the penalties for causing an accident while talking on a cell phone,” Sandoval said. “This measure will increase roadway safety throughout the state and bring additional attention to the dangers of being on a cell phone while behind the wheel.”