Illinois Distracted Driving

(It's more than just not texting)

Written by Meg Stefanac
Written by Meg Stefanac

Financial blogger and business owner, Meg Stefanac, has more than 15 years experience working in the financial services industry and enjoys helping individuals make solid financial decisions. Meg has extensive experience writing about insurance and finances and is a key contributor to

Distracted Driving Laws in Illinois

There are more than 300,000 car accidents every  year in Illinois. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is the act of engaging in any action that causes you to remove your hands from the wheel or your eyes from the road. There are three types of distracted driving:

  • Visual: Includes actions that take your eyes off the road, like looking at your GPS, watching something that is happening on the side of the road, looking at other passengers, or reading a text message.
  • Manual: Includes any action that causes you to take one or more hands off the steering wheel, like drinking coffee, reaching for something you dropped, or adjusting the A/C.
  • Cognitive: Includes actions that take your mind off the primary task of driving, like thinking about an upcoming meeting, daydreaming, or having an argument with one of your passengers.

Most distracted driving actions, though hazardous, are still totally legal. And in Illinois, lawmakers primarily focus their efforts on reducing accidents caused by cell phone use, neglecting other forms of distracted driving.


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Distracted Driving Statistics in Illinois

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Illinois:

  • Distractions can increase a driver’s risk of being in an accident:
    • Eating or drinking (non-alcoholic beverages) increases the risk by 3 times.
    • Sending a text message increases the risk by 4 times.
    • Reaching for an object increases the risk by 8 times.
  • Distracted driving is the cause of more than 58% of all crashes involved teenage drivers.
  • Reading a text message can take a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds.
  • In 2018, law enforcement in Illinois wrote 15,150 citations for distracted driving.

Does Illinois Have Laws against Distracted Driving?


In July 2019, Illinois’ new, tougher ban on using handheld devices while driving went into effect. This new law also made breaking the state’s distracted driving laws a moving violation.

Currently, Illinois’ distracted driving laws say:

  • All drivers are prohibited from reading, sending, or receiving text messages or communication and from browsing the Internet while behind the wheel.
  • All drivers are prohibited from using handheld electronic communication devices while behind the wheel.
  • Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using  any cell phone, even hands-free.
  • All drivers are prohibited from using any type of cellular phone (even hands-free) when driving in school speed zones and construction/road maintenance zones.
  • School bus drivers are not permitted to use any type of cell phone, even hands-free.
  • It is illegal to use a cell phone or take photos or videos on wireless devices when driving within 500 feet of an emergency scene.

Illinois compared to the rest of the US in texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

As you can see, lawmakers in most states have taken action to outlaw texting while driving. As time goes on, most of the remaining states are expected to follow suit.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Illinois?


In Illinois, you may use a handheld cell phone if you are:

  • Reporting an emergency situation
  • Parked on the shoulder of a roadway
  • Stopped due to normal traffic being obstructed as long as the vehicle is in neutral or in park

And the use of the following is permitted:

  • GPS systems or cell phones for GPS as long as the device is mounted and not being touched except to turn the device off or on
  • Two-way citizens band (CB) radio services
  • Two-way mobile radio transmitters or receivers

Last, the state’s distracted driving laws do not apply to:

  • Law enforcement officers or operators of emergency vehicles while performing official duties
  • First responders, including volunteer first responders, while operating their personal vehicle and using an electronic communication device for the sole purpose of receiving information about an emergency situation while en route to performing their official duties
  • Drivers of commercial motor vehicles who are reading messages displayed on a permanently installed communication device designed for a commercial motor vehicle with a screen that does not exceed 10 inches tall by 10 inches wide in size.

Illinois Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance

            Yes             No
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                                                 X
Is handheld device use permitted?                                 X
Any special restriction for young drivers?               X                 
Is headphone/headset use permitted?               X *                

* headphones, earbuds and headsets permitted when used in one ear only

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger while Driving in Illinois?

Yes. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea.

Distracted driving comes in many forms. From texting or watching videos to less obvious distractions, like searching for your sunglasses or munching on French fries, anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving presents a hazard.

So, what happens if a police officer in Illinois spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There is no law that specifically states that you can't eat while driving in this state.

However, eating a cheeseburger could cause you to drive erratically or to lose focus and commit a moving violation, like running a stop sign, and you could be pulled over for that. If that happens, you may get written up for distracted driving and for the moving violation you committed.

Unless you're really in a hurry, you’d be better off just eating that juicy cheeseburger indoors or sitting in the parking lot.

What Is the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Illinois uses primary enforcement.

This means that even if you are obeying all traffic laws and believe that you are in total control of your vehicle, if a police officer sees you sending a text message or talking on a handheld device while driving, you can be pulled over and given a citation.

What Is the Fine for Distracted Driving in Illinois?

The fine for a distracted driving citation increases according to the number of times a driver has received a citation, so:

  • First offense: $75 fine
  • Second offense: $100
  • Third offense: $125
  • Fourth and any future offenses: $150

Plus, distracted driving is a moving violation. Three moving violations within one year can result in the suspension of your driver’s license.

Effective July 2020, a new law will increase penalties to a $1,000 fine plus a one-year license suspension if a driver is distracted and causes an accident that results in bodily harm or death.

The fine for distracted driving in Illinois compared to surrounding states

The fine for distracted driving in Illinois compared to surrounding states

In addition to the fines assigned to distracted driving infractions, you will be expected to pay associated court costs and legal fees. And there is another price to pay, which brings us to our next subject: car insurance.

Does Distracted Driving in Illinois Increase Insurance Rates?

Yes.  But this wasn’t always the case.

In July 2019, tougher distracted driving laws went into effect in this state, and at this time, disobeying the state’s distracted driving laws became a moving violation. Because of this, if you're cited for distracted driving, your car insurance company will now know about it.

A distracted driving citation can increase your car insurance rates by as much as $120 year, but the exact amount your rates will go up depends on the insurance company you use and your previous driving history.

Plus, if you've been enjoying a safe driver discount, you can kiss that goodbye following a citation for distracted driving, and this can make your rate hike even more significant.

Simply put, that phone call or text message probably isn’t worth it. If you need to chat with someone immediately, pull over to the shoulder of the road and stop your car first.

What If I Drive into a State with Different Laws?

You may be wondering about how the law affects you if you drive across the border into another state where distracted driving laws may be different.

For example, Indiana currently permits drivers aged 18 and older to use handheld cell phones while driving, and Missouri allows drivers who are 21 or older to text while driving. Does this mean you can legally engage in these distracting behaviors once you drive over state lines?

Well, yes it does. But why would you want to? Assuming you’ve already outfitted your car with hands-free technology, there is no good reason to take a hand off the wheel to hold a phone to your ear. The dangers of texting while driving are well-documented, so why take the risk if you’re already used to avoiding doing so?

What Is Illinois Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving?

By toughening up Illinois’ distracted driving laws, state lawmakers like Representatives John D’Amico and Norine Hammond hope to lower the number of accidents on this state’s roadways. It's still too early to gauge the impact these new laws have had so far.

Plus, the state has designated one week in April as Distracted Driving Awareness Week. During this week, state police, safety, transportation, and education organizations team up to provide the public with information pertaining  to the dangers and consequences of distracted driving.


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So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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