BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Police will be on the lookout for more than your average speeders on the roadway this year as a result of new state laws.
As of Jan. 1, Senate Bill 2488 prohibits cell phone use in construction or maintenance zones. The law is one of the more significant changes that city and county law enforcement must adapt to with the new year.
Danville Director of Public Safety Larry Thomason noted the ban is on cell phone use as a whole, expanding on the prior law that banned use only when the speed limit in the work zone was lower than the posted speed limit.
“We see a lot of calls and direct conversations with individuals about people who blow through a red light,” he said. “Fortunately, they stop and wait and they see the person talking or texting.”
While cell phones can be the size of a person’s hand or smaller, Thomason said it’s not difficult for an officer to spot cell phone use by a driver in an unauthorized area.
“It’s obvious to an officer when their hand is to the side of their head or, when texting, the device is on the top of the steering wheel,” he said.
The law still allows motorists to use cell phones in voice-operated mode, including the use of a headset or cell phones with single-button activation.
And it’s not the only cut-back on cell phone use for drivers. New this year is House Bill 5101 which prohibits drivers from texting or using a hand-held cell phone while driving a commercial motor vehicle. Previously, Illinois law prohibited texting while driving for all vehicles, but cell phones were permitted.
Vermilion County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Dennis Wood said the state’s department of transportation studies issues such as these and laws are passed because of issues and problems.
“I think the laws have been written because accidents are resulting from people not paying attention,” he said. And as far as adjusting to the new laws, he added deputies are studying up and enforcing them.
“We all have some adjusting to do,” he said of drivers and law enforcement alike.
Thomason said he hopes drivers will heed the new cell phone laws.
“With the enactment of this law and awareness levels and the penalties of what you could suffer, it’s a great deterrent,” he said.
In addition to traffic laws, law enforcement also is seeing laws regarding child safety coming into effect as of this year. A new law — dubbed “Caylee’s Law” — makes it a felony for a parent or guardian to fail to report the disappearance of a child within 24 hours of the child going missing.
In addition, the law also makes it a crime to fail to report the death of a child.
Thomason said officers have not dealt with such scenarios covered by the law in recent years in Danville.
People also will be expected to acknowledge the whereabouts of family members wanted by police under a new law that took effect Jan. 1.
The law rewrites previous statutes that exempted family members from harboring fugitives from justice.
According to Thomason, this will help police when they can prove the family knows of a fugitive’s location.
“There have been instances in the past where we know family know the whereabouts, but they have not come forward,” he said.