Articles Posted in Traffic Accident

As part of its DUI statute, Illinois has a provision that provides that any amount of cannabis or controlled substance in a driver’s system may be the basis for a DUI charge. This is the only part of Illinois DUI law that permits a charge of driving while under the influence – even if there is no evidence that the person was impaired or intoxicated.

The most commonly cited example of the law is the person who may have smoked marijuana days or weeks earlier and then is stopped for a minor moving violation or as a result of an accident. If the officer has any reason to believe that the person had smoked marijuana at some point, the officer may seek testing. Often the situation arises in the case of an accident where the person was injured, taken to a hospital and testing is conducted, revealing the presence of a by-product of marijuana, called a ‘metabolite’.

The most recent example of the absurdity of the law is the case of Scott Shirey. In December 2011, Mr. Shirey was driving with his two young twin sons in his car. While driving, he was broad-sided by another vehicle and one of his children was killed and his old child was severely injured.

Current Illinois law allows a driver to be charged with DUI based on a trace of illegal drugs in their system. This is true regardless of impairment and even if the drug was used weeks earlier. The Illinois State Bar Association is challenging this unjust law.

Larry Davis, a principal at The Davis Law Group, P.C., helped to write the Illinois State Bar Association’s proposal. The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin quoted Mr. Davis stating, “It is a bad law. It is putting people who have not really committed anything that would justify that type of treatment–putting them in prison.” If the proposal is enacted into law, a driver who has marijuana in his system and is involved in a serious or fatal accident would be charged with a misdemeanor separate from the DUI charge. In order for the charge to be elevated to a felony aggravated DUI charge, prosecutors must prove impairment.

A prime example of the current, unjust law is illustrated by the case of Scott Shirey. Shirey was driving his 10 year old twins to swim practice when a pickup truck ran a red light, crashed into his car, killed one of his sons and severely injured the other. There was no allegation that he was under the influence or impaired in any way. When Shirey’s blood results came back, he had trace amounts of marijuana in his system. Shirey claims he had smoked pot a month before, but he faced up to 14 years in prison for an accident in which he was not at fault. In the end, Shirey received probation. His case has sparked controversy and a call for change.

A new Illinois law eliminates the requirement that drivers post their license as bail for certain traffic tickets. The “Sign and Drive” law (Senate Bill 2583) permits the driver’s signature on the traffic citation to guarantee their appearance in court or payment of required fines.

Under the new law, the Secretary of State may still suspend the driving privileges of those drivers who fail to comply with the citation. Driver’s are no longer required to hand over their driver’s license, which for many is the only form of identification they carry. The new law, signed by Gov. Quinn on Saturday, is effective immediately.

Drivers won’t need to hand over license as bail for traffic offenses,, August 10, 2014

Former Illinois State Police Trooper Matt Mitchell was denied driving relief by the Secretary of State once again after revocation stemming from his involvement in a fatal crash. According to Mitchell’s attorney, the hearing officer recommended driving relief only to have the decision overruled by a Secretary of State official in Springfield. His attorney believes that due to the high profile nature of the case, the Secretary of State is concerned with bad publicity. Mitchell would like to find work and have the ability to drive his 11-year-old daughter to school. His attorney has filed a request for administrative review in Jefferson County court.

Mitchell was involved in a November 23, 2007 crash which resulted in the death of two sisters. Mitchell’s squad car reportedly crossed the center line into oncoming traffic on Interstate 64. An investigation determined that the vehicle had been traveling at 126 mph while Mitchell was on his cell phone and typing on an in-dash computer. He was heading to an accident scene. In 2010, Mitchell pled guilty to reckless driving and was sentenced to 30 months probation. He plans to continue to apply for reinstatement.

Mitchell’s attorney outraged his client can’t get license back,, February 6, 2014

Although, as previously discussed, fatal hit-and-run crashes are increasing across the county, Illinois highway deaths are at 60-year lows according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA reports that over the past several years there has been a “historic downward trend in traffic fatalities.” The number of fatalities has decreased by approximately 26% from 2005-2011 and has continued on this pattern since that time. Illinois traffic fatalities is below the national average. Although highway deaths in Illinois have slightly increased in the most populated counties, that number has been more than offset by a decrease throughout the rest of the state.

The NHTSA does not specifically cite a basis for the decline but reasons may include DUI awareness and enforcement, vehicle design, airbags, seat belt laws and highway design. Illinois DUI-related deaths have declined 10% between 2008-2012.

NHTSA: Highway Deaths in Illinois, USA at Historic Lows,, November 19, 2013

According to crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hit-and-run crashes are on the rise in many major cities including Chicago. Nationally, the number of fatal hit-and-run crashes have increased from 1,274 in 2009, to 1,393 in 2010, to 1,449 in 2011, which is the most recent year data is available. That is a 13.9% increase over a three year period. However, overall traffic deaths fell 4.5% during the same period. In other words, the number of overall traffic deaths is not the basis for the steady increase.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that almost one in five of all pedestrian fatalities involve hit-and-runs. The foundation believes that alcohol is a major factor in these instances. Another common factor includes individuals driving without valid driving privileges. Los Angeles reportedly has the highest rate of hit-and-run crashes. In 2009, LA Weekly reported that 48% of the city’s crashes were hit-and-run related, in contrast to 11% nationally.

Many states are continuing to enact stricter legislation and create harsher penalties. Under current Illinois law, leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury or death is a Class 4 felony (1-3 years in prison). If the driver leaves the scene and does not then report the accident to a police station within 30 minutes, they may be charged with a Class 2 felony (Class 1 if the accident results in death). A conviction results in the revocation of the defendant’s driving privileges. If you are involved in a hit-and-run or charged with leaving the scene of an accident of any kind, you should contact an attorney immediately.

A Cook County jury awarded Stephen Dewart over $2.4 million in his suit against the City of Chicago stemming from injuries incurred when he was struck by an intoxicated Chicago Streets & Sanitation worker. Dwight Washington, the driver of the truck, had a BAC over twice the legal limit when he plowed into a group of pedestrians on a Gold Coast sidewalk in May 2011. An open bottle of brandy was found in his vehicle. Dewart was passing out fliers for his wife’s wedding consulting business when he suffered broken bones and a fractured vertebrae. The city previously agreed to pay $6.25 million last year to settle another case involving the same incident. Washington is currently serving time in prison for DUI.

Lawyer: Chicago to pay $2.4 million to man injured by drunk city worker,, September 23, 2013
$2.4 Million Verdict for Young Man Run Down by City Worker,, September 23, 2013

Driver’s charged with traffic offenses in Cook County should be aware of a new court initiative. Beginning in September, Cook County will provide comprehensive Secretary of State data to prosecutors on minor traffic court calls. Previously, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office used recidivism sheets which only provided data from an offender’s Cook County county court record.

The new recidivism sheets will contain an offender’s Illinois Secretary of State driving record which includes out-of-county and potentially out-of-state traffic violations. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office already has full Secretary of State data for major traffic court calls (i.e. DUI, driving on suspended license, etc.). Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County Timothy Evans reportedly facilitated an agreement between representatives of the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court and the Illinois Secretary of State.

New Cook County court initiative aimed at keeping dangerous drivers off the road, Illinois Lawyer Now,, August 23, 2013

On August 13, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law legislation originally proposed by the Secretary of State in an effort to make Illinois roads safer. Among the new legislation, Kelsey’s Law (House Bill 1009) prohibits the issuance of a driver’s license to a driver under the age of 18 who has any unresolved traffic citations. Under the new law, the Secretary of State may cancel a Graduated Driver’s License (“GDL”) if it is determined that at the time of issuance the minor had an unresolved traffic citation.

The current law does not require a GDL applicant to report pending traffic citations. The law is named for Kelsey Little, who was seriously injured in a 2011 car crash with a young driver on a learner’s permit. The driver was issued a citation, however, the teen was subsequently issued a driver’s license three days later. Because of the lack of a reporting requirement, the Secretary of State was unaware of the pending citation. Kelsey’s law becomes effective January 1, 2014.

In addition, Governor Quinn signed Patricia’s Law (House Bill 1010), which prohibits the issuance of court supervision to a driver involved in a fatal crash unless the driver has maintained a clean driving history. The new law is named in honor of Patricia McNamara, who was killed in an automobile crash in which the driver received court supervision. Patricia’s law becomes effective January 1, 2014.

A 30-year-old Chicago woman was charged with driving under the influence and nine counts of child endangerment after her SUV rolled over on I-57 early Friday. The children, some without seatbelts, ranged in age from 3 to 14. According to the Illinois State Police, four of the children in the vehicle are believed to be hers. The crash happened on the South Side of Chicago near 99th Street around 12:20 a.m. Witnesses claimed that the SUV was reportedly traveling at a high rate of speed in the southbound lanes of I-57 before rolling over onto the right embankment. Nine children and two adulta were hospitalized. A couple of the passengers were reported to be in serious-to-critical condition but, fortunately, none of the injuries were described as life-threatening. Tonica S. Conwell is facing DUI, child endangerment, and child-restraint charges. Illinois State Police are continuing their investigation.

Mom charged with DUI after kids hurt in SUV rollover,, August 2, 2013
DUI charges filed in I-57 crash that injured 9 children,, August 2, 2013

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