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Illinois Tollway unveils new weapon to fight distracted driving

As National Distracted Driving Awareness Month officially draws to a close, it's a good time to discuss the actions taken by officials here in Illinois to combat the number of serious personal injuries and fatalities caused by motorists using cell phones while behind the wheel.

By far, the most formidable weapon against distracted driving is state law, which expressly bans all motorists from texting while driving or talking on a handheld cell phone while driving. Here, the only exception is that motorists 19 and older can use a hands-free device to talk on the phone while driving.

As effective as the state's talking and texting ban has been, officials have also recognized that enforcement efforts and even educational campaigns can only do so much, and that further action needs to be taken.

To that end, the Illinois Tollway, which covers 286 miles spread throughout 12 counties in Northern Illinois, has been implementing what they describe as an engineering approach to helping curb distracted driving.

All this month, the Tollway has been busy erecting signs directing motorists to one of six "Safe Phone Zones." These zones, located inside roadside oases, provide motorists with both free Wi-Fi and comfortable seating to place their calls, send their texts or conduct other business.

"You have to have engineering as well, and that's what this is, because by creating these Safe Phone Zones it acknowledges that drivers need or want to communicate while on trips," said an official with the Governors Highway Safety Association.  "It's not a magic bullet, but it's part of the solution."

The six Safe Phone Zones are at the following locations:

  • The O'Hare, Hinsdale, South Holland, and Lake Forest roadside oases on the Tri-State Tollway.
  • The roadside oasis located on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway in Belvidere
  • The roadside oasis located on the Reagan Memorial Tollway in DeKalb.

It remains to be seen whether the Department of Transportation follows suit and erects these sorts of Wi-Fi centers on any of the almost 20,000 miles of roadway under its jurisdiction.

What are your thoughts on the Safe Phone Zones? Do you think they'll make any difference? Would you use them?

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