By Zeta Cross
(The Center Square) — A new trend is worrying police: Drivers on video conference calls.
Distracted driving was a factor in 1.6 million vehicle crashes in the United States last year. Thirty-eight people in Illinois were killed in crashes caused by distracted drivers. Hundreds more people were injured in crashes that should have been avoided.
Master Sgt. Joey Watson of the Illinois State Police blames remote work brought about by the pandemic for the growing number of drivers who take video conference meetings while driving.
“A lot of people engaged in this activity because of remote work. Unfortunately, the habits are formed. Now we have to break them,” Watson said to The Center Square.
It is not illegal to turn the video off and listen to a conference call in the car, but a driver’s primary focus should always be the road, Watson said.
House Bill 2431, sponsored by state Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, and is now in the Senate. The measure will impose fines for those video conferencing on the road.
Many people are surprised to learn that taking video conference meetings while driving has become a trend, but Watson said state troopers see people being careless behind the wheel every day.
“I’ve worked the road for many, many years and I’ve seen it all,” Watson said.
In 2022, ISP issued 7,296 citations and handed out more than 10,472 warnings to drivers who were making calls and sending texts on handheld devices.
The picture of distracted driving is much more than the legislated action of picking up a cell phone, Watson said.
“We’ve all seen people putting on makeup, shaving, changing radio stations, picking things up off the passenger floorboard. None of those things are illegal, but they are a choice,” he said.
When a person is behind the wheel, the vehicle ahead of them can stop suddenly. A child can dart out from behind a parked car. Another distracted driver could move into your lane.
“Focus on the drive. Keep all mental resources on the primary act of driving,” Watson said. “Set aside the distraction.”
Teenagers are much more likely to get in accidents than experienced older drivers. Teens are three times more likely to get in a fatal crash than people age 20 or older. Don’t show kids that it is OK to be careless when they are driving, Watson said.
“Driving habits start when kids are in the back seat in a car seat,” Watson said. “They watch their parents.”
For peace of mind when the kids start driving, “model the behavior that you want your children to exhibit whenever they are driving,” Watson said.