State Police crack down on cell phones in construction zones

By Marc Strauss

July 15, 2010 Updated May 21, 2010 at 7:56 PM CDT

A wrecked and twisted Ford Explorer sits near the corner of War Memorial and Scenic, just off the grounds of Northwoods Mall in Peoria.

The vehicle, which was involved in a crash, was strategically placed at the busy intersection by the Illinois State Police and OSF St. Francis Medical Center to highlight a campaign called "Stay Alive, Focus on the Drive".

The vehicle's driver was impaired from marijuana and prescription drug use. But Trooper Dustin Pierce says motorists who distract themselves by using cell phones while they drive risk a similar fate.

"Cell phone use in a vehicle increases your chances of being involved in a crash by 400-percent," said Pierce. "If you have a cell phone call that you have to make or answer the best thing to do is pull over to a safe place and make that call."

It's against the law in Illinois for drivers to use a cell phone in a construction zone or school zone without a hands-free device. That law went into effect January 1, 2010, and the fine is $75. But Pierce says too many motorists are either ignoring the new law or just aren't aware of it.

"We were doing a seat belt enforcement zone at Route 150 and Route 6. During that enforcement zone I believe they issued three citations for texting while driving."

As a result of incidents like that one Illinois State Police have already stepped up enforcement of the law, especially in construction zones. And that means all construction zones, not just the ones on interstate highways.

"(We'll) have troopers out there specifically assigned to those construction zones," explained Pierce, "not only monitoring the speed in those construction zones but also watching for people using their cell phones while traveling through there. Already this year we've issued quite a few citations for that and the construction season is just getting in full swing."

Trooper Pierce admits the $75 fine might not discourage some drivers. But seeing damage like the wrecked SUV near Northwoods Mall may get them to put down the cell phone.