New year introduces Illinois texting while driving ban, among other laws

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

About 300 new or amended laws took effect at midnight of New Year's Day last Friday in Illinois, ranging from government ethics reform to driving laws.

One law that is likely to affect residents' lives the most is a ban on reading or sending text messages through a hand-held device. Drivers who wish to text must put their vehicle on park or neutral while stopped in traffic or on the shoulder. The law also prohibits reading email or surfing the Internet, although using GPS capabilities is still allowed. Breaking this law is considered a primary offense, which means that law enforcement officers may pull violators over for it, similar to a seat belt violation.

Motorists also are prohibited from talking on their phones in a construction or school zone unless they are using earphones. Truck drivers outside the six-county Chicago area now have a speed limit of 65 mph, increased from 55 mph. In addition, injuring somebody while driving uninsured has become a misdemeanor, punishable with up to a year in jail or a $2,500 fine.

Former governor Rod Blagojevich's removal from office has led to new legislation to reform state government as well. Changes to the state's Freedom of Information Act requires government agencies to respond more quickly to requests for information. The Illinois Attorney General also gets broad powers to oversee enforcement of this law. In addition, lobbyists will have to pay a $1,000 annual registration fee, up from $150–$350. They will also have to report frequently on their activities and expenditures.


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