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OUR VIEW: Illinois right to get tougher on distracted driving

THE ISSUE: IDOT, state police to motorists: Drop it and drive
OUR VIEW: Enforcement, bill proposal steps toward safer roads

There's no doubt distracted drivers are more dangerous.

Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving blind at 55 mph for the length of a football field, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Considering those facts, it's alarming we encounter motorists alongside us looking down presumably at their cellphones as often as we do. Readers have shared these concerns with The Times before.

We're encouraged state agencies are taking action.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is making $500,000 in federal highway safety dollars available to nearly 100 law enforcement agencies throughout the state to step up distracted driving enforcement through April 30.

It is against the law in Illinois to use a handheld mobile device while driving. Penalties for violation are set at $75 for a first offense.

Additionally, a new bill passed the Illinois House calling for first-time offenses of distracted driving to be considered moving violations. Under current state law, first-time offenses are treated as nonmoving violations.

The penalty for a violation of the proposed law will go on a motorist's driving record, as well as fines and court costs set by a judge. A driver who is convicted of three moving violations in a 12-month period is subject to a driver's license suspension.

This move makes sense, considering distracted driving occurs when a vehicle is in operation, and it's curious it wasn't considered that way in the first place. Second and any subsequent distracted driving offenses under current law are counted as moving violations.

While it's encouraging to see the state take action, the responsibility still rests with drivers themselves.

Their recklessness not only puts them at risk, but also other motorists and pedestrians.

We're asking anyone who answers their phone, surfs the internet or tries to text while driving to put their phone down and wait until they get to where they are going. If the communication is urgent, pull off the side of the road in a safe manner.

The risk is real. Life is much more valuable than a text.

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