Driving the law: Legislators plan more rules for drivers

Matt Hopf

Drivers be warned. State lawmakers have you in their sights again.

Last year was one of the most significant sessions for driving laws, with bans on texting while behind the wheel and on using cell phones in construction and school zones.

This session isn't quite as monumental but still has plenty for drivers to be aware of. The drivers advocacy group AAA Chicago says it has tracked about 90 bills in Illinois during the last two years.

Here is a look at some of the measures that could result in new laws for drivers this year:

Stopping at crosswalks

Current state law requires motorists to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. A resurrected measure in the Illinois Senate would require motorists to stop at a crosswalk if there is a pedestrian in it. This would apply to unregulated crosswalks, and not those that have traffic signals or stop signs.

Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said it would make it easier for police to enforce and could lower the amount of pedestrian deaths in Illinois. A March 2009 report from the Active Transportation Alliance found 172 pedestrians were killed in 2007 statewide.

"Right now the rule is you're supposed to yield," Steans said.

Drivers who fail to stop would be fined at least $150.

The measure passed the House last year, but failed to get enough support in the Senate. But now it could get a vote there in the final weeks of session.

Opponents argue that it would be difficult for drivers to stop since current law only requires drivers to yield.

Teenage driving hour cuts

Teenage driving hours may be cut during the weekends if Senate President John Cullerton has his way. Senate Bill 3795 would shave off 30 minutes of driving time on Friday and Saturday nights for drivers under 18. Teenagers would have to be off the roads by 10:30 p.m.

Currently, teenage drivers' licenses become invalid at 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Licenses are invalid between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. the rest of the week.

The proposal is currently waiting on a vote in the Senate. Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Cullerton, said he would probably call the proposal before session's end.

AAA is supporting the passage of the new driving restrictions.

"Friday and Saturday nights statistically are the most dangerous times of the week for teens to be driving," AAA spokeswoman Beth Mosher said. "Research has shown that teen injuries and fatalities are reduced when the nighttime driving provision is set earlier."

The association's graduated drivers licensing guidelines suggest no driving between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless the teenager is with an adult.

Excessive speeding

Drivers who want to really test the power of their vehicles on the roads could face stronger punishment.

Senate Bill 3796 would not allow court supervision as an option for drivers caught going more than 40 mph above the speed limit. The measure breezed through both chambers and heads to the governor.

"When you're driving that fast, if you have a flat tire or you have to swerve you can cause a terrible accident and kill a lot of innocent people," said Rep. John D'Amico, the Chicago Democrat sponsoring the bill in the House.

About 40 percent of drivers ticketed driving more than 100 mph have received court supervision, with 63 percent in Chicago receiving supervision, according to the secretary of state's office.

Driving more than 40 miles an hour above the speed limit is a Class A misdemeanor in Illinois, punishable up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Also under the bill, driving between 30 and 39 miles an hour above the speed limit would be a class B misdemeanor, punishable up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Secretary of State Jesse White lauded the bill moving forward.

"No driver has any business driving 100 mph on the interstate," White said in a statement. "Excessive speeders pose a greater risk to the public and such reckless behavior does not merit court supervision."

Protecting bicyclists

Cyclist safety is the plan of a measure that has cleared both chambers and now heads to Gov. Pat Quinn. The bill would charge people who hit a bicyclist, pedestrian or person riding a horse or horse-drawn carriage if they recklessly drive their vehicles toward a cyclist.

Senate Bill 2951 would make hitting cyclists a Class A misdemeanor if there is no injury. If there is serious injury, it would be a class 3 felony, punishable by 2 to 5 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

"Sometimes they get unnecessarily close to the bicyclists," said Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago. "It's a safety type of issue."

Silverstein based the measure of a Colorado law approved in 2009. 

The bill would also make it illegal for someone to throw something at a bicyclist. Under the measure, it would be a Class A misdemeanor punishable up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Driving 70 mph on the interstates

Drivers who want to go a little faster legally on the major roads are out of luck. A proposal that would increase the maximum speed limit to 70 mph on Illinois interstates will not get out of the Senate.

Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, said Senate Bill 3668 was not given an extension for a vote in the Senate. He is making plans to reintroduce the bill during the next session.

"I'm gathering more information to make my case and we hope to move it again next year," Risinger said.

The proposal was met with concerns from driving organizations.

"We think this is dangerous legislation that comes far too soon on the heels of a speed limit increase for trucks in January," Mosher said.

The speed limit for large trucks was raised to 65 mph Jan. 1, after Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill. Both Missouri and Iowa have 70 mph speed limits.

Matt Hopf can be reached at

Driving bills at a glance

A look at some of the driving bills moving through the legislature this year:

- Senate Bill 3795 would reduce teenage driving hours from 11 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

- Senate Bill 3796 would not allow court supervision for those driving 40 mph or more over the speed limit and would increase penalties for drivers going 30 to 39 mph over the speed limit.

- Senate Bill 2951 would charge people who hit bicyclists when they were driving too close to them. It would also make it illegal to throw something from a car at a bicyclist.

- House Bill 43 would require motorists to come to a complete stop before crosswalks when there are pedestrians in them.