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Illinois appears poised to ban handheld cellphone use while driving

Published: Monday, March 4, 2013 5:42 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 1:00 p.m. CDT

Driving while talking on a hand-held mobile phone soon could be illegal throughout Illinois.

Last week, the state House of Representatives passed legislation by a vote of 64-46 to ban such use.

Most local lawmakers opposed the measure, including state Rep. Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville; state Rep. Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia; and state Rep. Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago. State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, voted in favor of the legislation.

The law would allow police to ticket drivers caught using a cellphone while driving, unless they are using a hands-free device. Drivers who receive three tickets for breaking the cellphone ban could have their driver’s licenses revoked.

The law would allow drivers to use their phones while driving during an emergency.

Most opponents of the bill said they believe the law would overreach.

Schmitz noted the law would produce too many open questions that could complicate enforcement. He noted that while the law would allow drivers to use their cellphones “in an emergency,” it doesn’t define “emergency.”

“I mean, what if my son calls, and he’s lost? You might say it’s not an emergency, but to him, it is,” Schmitz said. “This is just a silly bill.”

Hatcher said the law would produce too large a burden on senior citizens and others who have difficulty hearing. She also noted the law would require many to purchase new mobile devices, which would burden the poor.

Supporters said the proposed law was necessary to promote public safety. Pritchard said drivers distracted by mobile phones represent a real threat to the safety of others on the road.

“People’s stupidity is killing others,” Pritchard said. “We’re going to try to do what we can to limit distracted driving and make the roads safer.”

Beth Mosher, a spokeswoman for the AAA Chicago Motor Club, said her organization supports the law, which would make Illinois the 11th state to ban all hand-held cellphone use while driving.

But she said AAA also is working to push motorists and lawmakers, alike, to understand that switching from handheld devices to hands-free devices is not a cure-all for the problems caused by drivers using mobile devices while driving.

“The distraction is the conversation, not the device,” Mosher said.

However, she said AAA approaches legislation with a sense of "realism" at the "appetite" the public and lawmakers might have for prohibitions on certain kinds of distracted driving behaviors.

It is unclear when the state Senate will take up the legislation that was approved by the House. But one of the two state senators representing the Tri-Cities said she would oppose the legislation.

“People are capable of making responsible decisions, and we need to protect their right to do so,” said state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-South Elgin, in a prepared statement. “If we continue to unnecessarily regulate things that people can decide for themselves, where do we draw the line?”

State Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, said he had not read the legislation, nor was he familiar with it.

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