Of course, state and local laws aren’t the only regulations you’ll need to have on your radar while you’re here—a complete list of University policies and regulations can be found at commonsense.uchicago.edu or studentmanual.uchicago.edu—but they are good to know. Here is a sampling of Chicago and Illinois laws of interest that you (and any out-of-state or unfamiliar-with-state visitors you might bring along) ought to bear in mind.
- For drivers or future Zipcar patrons: As of January 1 of this year, it is illegal to use cell phones while driving in the state of Illinois—unless that use is hands-free (speaker or Bluetooth). Otherwise, you could be penalized starting from $75. Also noteworthy for car drivers is the recent proliferation of red-light cameras in the city, which have a reputation of being merciless—they were the subject of a recent *Chicago Tribune* watchdog investigation. Don’t give them anything to go on.
- Pedestrians should note that while it is technically mandatory for all bikes and cars to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks at unmarked intersections, most motorists seem to be struggling with the transition. Even if a crosswalk is labeled as a conditional stop, it’s still likely that drivers will keep going—be vigilant and expect the worst; pessimism remains the best way to protect yourself from vehicles.
- Smoking is illegal inside of all public buildings in Chicago (as well as in lobbies and hallways of apartment buildings), and smokers outside those buildings must be at least 15 feet away from entrances. As of September 10 of this year, smoking is also illegal in all Chicago beaches, playgrounds, parks, harbors, and Park District buildings. It is also campus policy—as well as my own heartfelt plea—that students, faculty, and staff avoid smoking near building vents, as the smoke can easily get sucked inside and into the ventilation systems.
- Bikers in Chicago are fortunate to have an extensive network of bike lanes and the newly introduced and still-expanding Divvy bike-sharing program, but there are some responsibilities that go along with the conveniences: Bikers are expected to use hand signals and bike lanes whenever possible, and to obey all traffic laws. Generally, riding on sidewalks is forbidden, although local ordinance varies. Night riding is permissible if your bike is outfitted with a white light visible from 500 feet on the front and a red reflector visible from 100 feet on the rear.
- This is a new one, and likely isn’t on your list of things to know, but it’s still a good thing to have on your radar: Since 2013 Illinois has been in the process of implementing concealed carry legislation. The process for applying for a license is still a lengthy bureaucratic maze, but Governor Pat Quinn’s veto was overridden on July 9, 2013 and concealed carry appears to be here to stay, at least for the short term—although you’ll notice that all University buildings are outfitted with signage advertising that firearms are forbidden on campus.