- Associated Press - Saturday, April 6, 2019

CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois State Police troopers are taking a hard line against distracted drivers but Chicago police officers aren’t really enforcing the law barring drivers from using mobile devices while on the road, according to data from both agencies.

The number of tickets issued by state troopers for texting or talking on a cellphone without the use of a hands-free device spiked to 14,268 tickets in 2018, an increase of more than 700% from the 1,729 handed out in 2017, State Police Sergeant Christopher “Joey” Watson told the Chicago Tribune.

But in Chicago - where officers issued more than 45,000 tickets for the same violation in 2014 - just 297 tickets were issued last year, according to figures the newspaper obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. City police issued 531 such tickets in 2017. State law changed in 2015, compelling officers to attend traffic court for tickets issued.

Distracted driving was cited in 3,166 fatal traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2017, according to federal data. Safety advocates say preoccupied driving is probably under-reported as an influence in crashes and that it is as dangerous as drunken driving, if not more so.

Watson said that state troopers have amplified enforcement efforts because distracted driving is a “huge issue” on the highways, and they want ensure drivers are being mindful of the law.

“There was a learning curve with the public,” Watson said. “We gave a lot of warnings, and state police began transitioning more to a hard citation.”

Chicago police declined to comment to the newspaper on the data.

Nick Smith, interim CEO for the National Safety Council, applauded the state’s rise in citations but called Chicago’s levels “shocking.”

“We know that enforcement is key to impacting behavior,” Smith said. “We’d like to see the city place a higher priority on this since distraction contributes to incidents and fatalities.”

In April, the Illinois Department of Transportation will be giving 115 law enforcement agencies $1 million in federal subsidies to help fund an enforcement campaign, aiming to double citations, said Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell.

“These crashes are almost 100 percent avoidable,” Tridgell said. “It’s got to stop.”

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

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