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How we found out Chicago tickets cellphone users more often

Thursday's story on drivers ticketed for using cellphones in Chicago started when I was working on a story for the RedEye about digital addiction.

People feel lost without their smart phones. They use them to call, text, update their Facebook status -- and do all that from behind the wheel. I thought it would be a good detail to include in the story the number of people who have been ticketed for driving while using their cell phones. It turned out that it wasn’t exactly a quick question to get answered.

The result was this story with the Tribune's Lolly Bowean that ran on the front pages of the Chicago Tribune and RedEye.

The process took time. The Chicago Police Department sent me to the Cook County Traffic Court. When I requested how many tickets for the offense had been written in recent years, they supplied me with data and told me that tickets also go to the city’s Administrative Hearings Department.
All the data showed a noticeable shift in tickets going from Traffic Court to Administrative Hearings.

I was curious how much in fines had been paid to the city through these tickets. I also began looking into whether the city has changed the fine amount -- and found they steadily had increased it.

The next question was: Where are drivers getting ticketed? And only Administrative Hearings could provide the locations of the violations. We enlisted the help of the Tribune’s news apps team to map out those locations. And from there, we offered to team up with the Tribune on the story to share with readers what we were able to find out:

That Chicago police are cracking down on drivers for using their cell phones and that the department issued more tickets last year than in prior years.

-- Leonor Vivanco, RedEye

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