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Macomb Police Look to Curb Distracted Driving

TSPR Emily Boyer

The Macomb Police Department said more people are getting hurt in car crashes despite a decline in the overall number of vehicular accidents. So the department is stepping up traffic enforcement in an effort to make the city's roads safer.

Police Chief Curt Barker said officers are on the lookout for traffic violations such as speeding, distracted driving, and drivers not wearing a seatbelt.

He said they’re also watching for drivers who violate Illinois’ hands-free cell phone law by either talking or texting behind the wheel. Barker said holding the cell phone while talking on speaker phone is not compliant. He said the conversation needs to be through a Bluetooth device to be considered completely hands-free.

Barker said police officers in Macomb currently have two options when the do a traffic stop for one of those violations: they can issue the driver a written warning, or they can write a state ticket -- which can cost $120 or more.  

“I know how the officers feel because I kind of feel the same way. $120 is expensive when you stop somebody for talking on their cell phone and that hurts. That person may have not had any previous stops, may have not been in trouble before, they just made a mistake,” Barker said.

The chief is asking the Macomb City Council to create a third option for officers by establishing a city ordinance violation. Barker said tickets for such violations would start at $50 per offense.  He said the new charge would allow police officers to be more aggressive since the ticket costs less money.

“We are wanting to be able to add the city ordinance offense to [the officer’s] tool box. Something a little bit stronger than a written warning, but yet is not so harsh as a state offense. It just gives [the officer] a little more discretion, something else they can use.”

Barker said a city ordinance violation does not show up on someone’s driving record or increase insurance rates. Also unlike state tickets, revenue generated from a city ordinance violation goes directly to the city.

In addition, he said city ordinance violations are easier for his department to track, which will allow police officers to keep tabs on offenses.

“Well you’ve already gotten a written warning and a city ordinance citation so you’re obviously not getting it so now we can write you a state charge. So now we have a way to escalate this as we work our way through,” Barker said.

He said city ordinance violations can be paid over the counter or online.

The city council has not taken up Barker's proposal.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.