Thursday, May 23, 2013

Senate approves ban on cell phone use behind the wheel

By Meredith Colias

Cellphone-loving Illinois drivers may soon have to alter their handheld habits, as the Illinois Senate voted to institute hands-free and 'one-touch' dialing restrictions on the road.

It would mean drivers would not be allowed to press more than one button to dial a phone number and would have to either use a Bluetooth device or put the phone on speaker while driving. The Senate approved House Bill 1247 on a 34 to 20 vote.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s office did not take a definitive stance on the bill, saying the governor would review the bill when he received it. The Illinois Department of Transportation also has not taken a position on the legislation. Before it can be sent to the governor’s desk, the House, which passed the legislation in March, would have to agree to an amendment added by the Senate to spare drivers from a moving violation the first time they are caught by police. The bill’s House sponsor said he would accept the change. “It actually makes the bill a little better,” Chicago Democrat Rep. John D’Amico said. Giving drivers a break will give the state an opportunity to better educate the public if it becomes law, he said.

Sponsor Sen. John Mulroe, a Chicago Democrat, argued the bill would reduce distracted driving, making roadways safer. He recounted stories of younger drivers killed in accidents while using their cellphones. Other proponents said they felt a sense of responsibility to write legislation that could potentially improve road safety. "Our jobs are to save lives and protect the public," said Chicago Democratic Sen. Ira Silverstein. Mulroe cited statistics stating drivers were four times more likely to get into a car crash while using a handheld device. Texting while driving is already outlawed in the state. Under this bill, a first time fine would be $75 and go up to $150 for four or more offenses.

Opponents said the bill was poorly constructed and would be difficult for police to enforce. Lebanon Republican Sen. Kyle McCarter said it was more important for the bill actually to be effective, not to be introduced “just because we care."

East Moline Sen. Mike Jacobs, a Democrat, cited studies showing hands-free driving did not significantly lower accident rates because drivers were still distracted by their conversations. “People have to make decisions in their lives,” he said. “Anyone who texts and drives is a fool" and anyone who talks and drives “is an idiot, but that doesn't mean we should have a law to say so.” Echoing Jacobs, Carlinville Republican Sam McCann said the bill would not effectively prevent drivers from taking their eyes off the road. “We cannot legislate every minute of their lives," he said.

Grayslake Democratic Sen. Melinda Bush said it was worth a try. For a distracted driver, “causing an inconvenience is worth the cost of someone's life," she said. “You are a safer driver with both hands on the wheel," she said. "It's not difficult to use the speaker on your phone."


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