traffic

traffic (Tribune illustration)

Drivers in fatal crashes will be less likely to get a special kind of probation under a new law that went into effect this year.

The law is the latest to limit when judges can use the probation, called court supervision, which is widely popular because it's not listed on drivers' publicly available driving abstracts. That means insurance companies can't see the tickets, nor does the state count them toward the three-a-year conviction limit that can lead to a license suspension.

Critics have complained for years that judges have been too lenient granting supervisions. In 2010, the Tribune found supervisions were given to most speeders going 100 mph or faster, prompting a state law that prohibited supervisions for egregious speeders.

The new law targets drivers who kill others. It limits supervision in fatal crashes only to drivers who have clean records before the crash, typically those who avoided getting convictions or supervisions for at least the four years before the crash.

It was pushed by the secretary of state's office, which cited two cases. One involved Patricia McNamara, who was killed by a McHenry County driver distracted by his cellphone. The driver was granted supervision, despite having past speeding convictions.

The other case involved a Chicago cabdriver with a history of tickets. The cabbie was granted supervision after running over an elderly woman in a crosswalk.

McNamara's parents, Walter and Carol Speer, said in an email that they hope the new law makes drivers think twice before being distracted by their cellphones. A separate state law, also taking effect this year, prohibits the use of hand-held cellphones.

"We are trying to take one more step closer to saving another life," the couple said.

Secretary of State Jesse White called the law "an important next step" in promoting traffic safety "and one that makes sense."

jmahr@tribune.com