Illinois lawmakers considering expanded use of speed cameras

In the United States in 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that vehicle accidents involving speeding cost $210 billion in economic and societal harm. Although speed-related crashes cause serious injury and death across the country, Illinois is one of seven states that limit the use of speed cameras. Twelve other states prohibit their use. Speed cameras sense and discourage motorists from exceeding the speed limit with automated enforcement technology. Representatives in Illinois want to install speed cameras in communities smaller than the current minimum of one million people. Chicago is the only city in the state that meets the current criteria.

Support for the installation of speed cameras

Belleville Representative Jay Hoffman is the state lawmaker who introduced the legislation. Many law enforcement officials agree that enacting this law uniformly across the state would promote safety by reducing speed-related car accidents in problem areas, particularly school zones. Hillsdale Representative Mike Smiddy agrees that speed cameras are necessary to protect children in school zones.

Speed-related accidents cause nearly half of fatal crashes in Illinois

According to United States census statistics, 911 fatalities occurred in Illinois in 2009 because of speed-related accidents. Exceeding the posted speed limit is a factor in more than 40 percent of the fatal crashes in Illinois. In a recent case, an 18-year-old girl died in a crash on her way home from work. Local law enforcement said the accident appeared to be speed related because there was not another car involved in the accident, and toxicology reports indicated that alcohol was not involved.

Motorists believe speed cameras violate their rights

While legislators and law enforcement officers and numerous reports by various agencies maintain that automated enforcement technology such as speed cameras have the potential to make the roads safer, motorists do not agree. Many have argued that using cameras to enforce traffic laws has been used as a revenue generator for private agencies, or that technology used to record infractions violate individual rights to privacy.

Lawmakers addressed these concerns more than a decade ago, and set mandates for the use of revenue garnered from tickets issued from evidence provided by speed cameras. Regarding the assertion that motorists’ privacy rights have been violated, courts have ruled that, because driving a vehicle takes place in public and is a privilege not guaranteed for everyone, privacy while operating the vehicle is not protected by the Constitution.

Individuals injured in a speed-related accident should seek legal counsel for compensation due to a driver’s negligence or reckless driving.

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Will Illinois lower the legal limit?

More than once an hour, someone is fatally injured in an accident involving an impaired driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite state laws and enforcement efforts, intoxicated drivers pose a serious threat to innocent drivers in Illinois, where Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that 279 lives were lost in alcohol-related accidents in 2011.

Research indicates that even drivers who are below the legal blood-alcohol content limit may be dangerously impaired. Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a recommendation for all states to lower the legal BAC limit to .05. Government research suggests this measure could save between 500 and 800 lives every year.

Impairment at legal levels

According to the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver performance is affected even at BAC levels below the legal limit. At a level of .05, drivers struggle with steering, perceiving depth, tracking motion and reacting to emergencies. These drivers are 39 percent more likely to be involved in accidents. A recent University of California, San Diego study found that even minimal BAC levels affect driving ability. Drivers with a BAC of .01 who were involved in accidents were 46 percent more likely to be solely blamed in official accident investigation reports.

Research supports a lower limit, but the NTSB does not have legal authority to change laws. Each state makes its own laws, and the federal government can give states incentive to change them. When the NTSB last recommended that the legal limit be lowered, almost two decades passed before every state complied. If Illinois does not change the legal limit, many Chicago drivers may continue drinking and driving legally but unsafely, putting other drivers at risk.

Recourse for accident victims 

In Illinois, a person who is injured in an accident involving a drunk driver may hold that driver liable. Victims may seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. The surviving family members of a fatally injured accident victim may seek damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. Under state Dram Shop laws, a third party who provided the alcohol or a place to drink may also be held liable for an accident.

In Illinois, an intoxicated driver is not automatically at fault in an accident. Illinois considers contributory fault and takes the actions of each driver into account. Victims are only awarded damages if they are less than 50 percent at fault, and compensation awarded may be reduced based on the amount of fault attributed to the victim. This means that, for the injured party, it is critical that accident circumstances are documented carefully, even if the accident involves an intoxicated driver.

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Distraction and truck drivers make a deadly combination

Crashes involving large trucks claimed more than 3,000 lives in 2012, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Truck accidents often have devastating consequences for other motorists since trucks may weigh more than 20 times what passenger vehicles do. Though some large truck accidents are caused by unavoidable circumstances, the leading accident cause is driver error, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Distracted driving has been identified as one common behavior that causes errors and needlessly puts the lives of Illinois drivers in danger.

Risky behaviors

Drivers of large trucks must actively plan ahead and monitor changing conditions to avoid accidents, so even minor distractions can be unsafe. One FMCSA study found distraction was a definite cause in 10 percent of large truck accidents. With more than 300,000 large truck accidents causing over 100,000 injuries and 3,921 fatalities in 2012 alone, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of injuries and fatalities caused by distracted truck drivers is not trivial.

Texting and dialing are especially dangerous distractions. Research from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute indicates that texting raises the crash risk 23 times for large truck drivers, while simply dialing a phone raises the risk 5.9 times. The FMCSA targets these risks by banning truck drivers from texting or using handheld cell phones, but these regulations can be difficult to enforce.

Unfortunately, research has established that many legal distractions also increase accident risk. Common but dangerous behaviors include eating, adjusting in-vehicle controls and reaching for objects inside the vehicle. The FMCSA publishes recommendations on truck driver best practices but cannot enforce sanctions for these behaviors, which may leave other motorists vulnerable.

Injured victims’ rights 

People who are injured in a large truck accident involving distracted driving are entitled to compensation, if they can prove negligence on the part of the driver or the trucking company. Negligence may be established even if a driver was not breaking FMCSA regulations and Illinois law. Legal distracted behaviors and the accidents they cause often represent reasonably preventable dangers for which drivers can be held liable.

Illinois accident victims are given two years from the date of injury to file a personal injury lawsuit. Illinois law requires the victim to prove fault, which can be done through official accident reports and medical documentation of the injuries sustained. Victims who establish fault are entitled to economic damages for expenses associated with the injuries and non-economic damages for pain and suffering. These awards cannot reverse the damage done, but they can help victims manage their expenses while learning to live with their injuries.

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