When was the last time you went for a drive and didn’t see another driver using a cellphone?
We pondered that question as we reviewed a press release last week from the Oswego Police Department announcing Illinois’ second annual Distracted Driving Week, April 23-27.
The press release noted that state law prohibits all drivers from using a handheld phone while driving, prohibits all teens from using any kind of cellphone while driving and prohibits drivers from texting while driving. The press release also noted that 10 people are killed every single day in distracted-driving accidents in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The release did not list the number of people who are injured daily in distracted-driving crashes or the millions of dollars in damage to vehicles that occurs in fender-bender crashes due to handheld cellphone use.
To help call attention to the dangers associated with distracted driving, police in Kendall County and their counterparts across the state will be conducting a special enforcement campaign next week, targeting drivers whom officers observe using cellphones and other devices.
Obviously as anyone who drives anywhere already knows, the existing laws are widely ignored by a large percentage of motorists. For the sake of public safety, we wish police good luck with their stepped-up enforcement effort next week.
Quite frankly, we wish they would make a concerted effort every day of the year to ticket the handheld cellphone lawbreakers. However, we understand that police manpower is limited, expensive and officers on their beats often find themselves with more immediately pressing public safety issues to deal with.
While we despair as we drive daily and see the large number of motorists looking at their phones while driving, we are hopeful that things can one day improve.
We can recall back in 1985 when Illinois lawmakers passed a law requiring motorists to buckle their seat belts. At that time just 15.9 percent of motorists were fastening their seat belts and many motorists strongly opposed the law. “The government,” some said, “isn’t going to make me fasten my seat belt.”
But over the years – due to public education campaigns and police enforcement efforts – the number of motorists who got into the daily habit of using their seat belts steadily climbed to a remarkable 93 percent in 2016, according to Illinois Department of Transportation data.
We believe that similar public education campaigns and police enforcement efforts concerning the dangers of handheld cellphone use would produce similar results and steadily the number of motorists who choose to obey the law and leave their phones alone will rise.
As for the last time we went for a drive and didn’t see another driver on a cellphone? We’re guessing it was probably in 1998, the year Google was founded and three years after California became the first state in the nation to enact a statewide smoking ban in enclosed public spaces. Which goes to show that dangerous public health habits can and will change with a nudge from the law and effective public education campaigns.