SPRINGFIELD | A new Illinois law allows motorists to prove they have insurance via a smart phone.
But exactly how it will work when a cop approaches your vehicle during a traffic stop remains up in the air for some law enforcement agencies.
Unlike handing over a paper version of your proof of insurance, some motorists may be reluctant to allow a law enforcement agent to take their smart phone back to their squad cars to fill out paperwork.
And, police may be reluctant to take a phone with them because it could lock up before they write down the insurance number, forcing them to get out of their vehicles and return to the motorist in order to unlock the phone.
In Mattoon, the answer is simple.
“We won’t be taking their phone,” Mattoon Police Chief Jeff Branson said.
In Williamson County, Sheriff Bennie Vick said he believes it will be a good law that will save people from having to go to a courthouse if they are stopped and forgot their insurance card.
But, he said, he’s not sure of the logistical aspects of the law when it comes to handing over a smart phone that contains oodles of personal information.
“I hadn’t even thought about that,” Vick said. “I guess it will be handled on an individual basis by each deputy.”
The law does say that using a cell phone to show proof of insurance does not give law enforcement personnel permission to access any other information on the device.
In McLean County, home to the nation’s largest automobile insurer, State Farm, Sheriff Mike Emery says the law is good overall, but could be a distraction for a police officer and could lead to longer traffic stops.
For example, he said it could mean one of his deputies has to stand next to a vehicle in heavy traffic while someone fumbles to get their app up on their phone. It also could become a hassle if someone’s phone runs out of power.
“You’re looking at a greater possibility for error,” Emery said.
But, he said, “We’re going to have to make an adjustment. It’s a change we’re going to have to make.”
The Illinois State Police also have not drawn up a systemwide policy for dealing with the new law.
“We have not specifically outlined how officers will handle these situations other than advising our officers of the law,” spokeswoman Monique Bond said in an email. “It would be difficult to speculate how officers handle as each situation varies.”
“Officers could view the information at their car or write down the information before returning to the squad car. The possibility for both scenarios exists,” Bond added.
Branson said the new law should be a welcome convenience for motorists who forget to put new insurance cards in the vehicle.
“I don’t see it being a problem at all,” Branson said.