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Proposed legislation would ban hand-held cellphones while driving in Illinois

Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 5:23 p.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner photo illustration - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
A bill to pass a ban on the use of hand-held cellular phones while driving has passed the Illinois House and is now going to the Illinois Senate.

Batavia resident Jamie Kroc said she believes that anyone talking on a cellphone while operating a car should be wearing a Bluetooth headset.

“I use a Bluetooth in my car religiously,” she said.

Kroc said she supports proposed legislation that would ban the use of hand-held cellphones throughout the state. The bill recently was approved in the state House of Representatives, 64-46, and it is now headed to the state Senate.

Similar legislation passed the state House last year before being defeated in the state Senate. The legislation would allow the use of hands-free phones, and violators could be fined a maximum of $75 for a first offense.

Motorists are prohibited from using hand-held cellphones while driving in school or construction zones. In addition, they are prohibited from texting while driving, and drivers 18 and younger are banned from using wireless phones while driving altogether.

Not everyone is a fan of the proposed legislation.

State Rep. Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville, opposed the measure.

“Most people who have hearing aids can’t use hands-free devices,” Hatcher said. “I believe that it goes against the Americans with Disabilities Act and is prejudicing against folks with little means.”

Hatcher said she wears a hearing aid.

State Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-South Elgin, has said she would oppose the legislation.

“People are capable of making responsible decisions, and we need to protect their right to do so,”McConnaughay had said 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 would first want to examine both sides of the issue.

“I would want to hear the debate,” he said.

St. Charles Police Department spokesman Paul McCurtain said it would be difficult to enforce a hand-held cellphone ban. He said the department already vigorously enforces the ban in school zones while students are present and in construction zones.

“It’s hard to see drivers who are talking on their cellphones, but we would enforce it to the best of our ability,” McCurtain said. “We have SUVs in our fleet that allow us to look down into their vehicles.”

St. Charles also has its own distracted driving ordinance that “covers anything that would distract a driver from operating his or her vehicle,” McCurtain said.

Other area police departments are in favor of the ordinance. Julie Nash, Geneva police patrol operations commander, said “any law that is going make the roadway safer, the police department supports.”

“I think the statistics show that the use of cellphones or texting while driving are a leading cause of accidents,” Nash said.

Nash said such a law would be “fairly easy to enforce.”

“If somebody is talking on the phone and holding it in their hand, that is pretty obvious what they are doing,” she said.

The National Safety Council estimates at least 23 percent of all car crashes – or at least 1.3 million each year – involve cellphone use. The council also estimated that 1.2 million crashes each year involve drivers using cellphones for conversations and at least 100,000 additional crashes can be related to drivers who are texting.

Veteran police officer Dennis Harper, who operates the Drive Home Safe driving school in Geneva, supports the proposed law.

“Driving in and of itself takes multitasking,” Harper said. “Eliminating hand-held cellphones will help, if you can get the public to comply.”

Harper said he receives his cellphone service through his car stereo.

“I personally don’t like holding up a phone to my ear,” he said.

Harper is a retired Batavia police officer, and he now is a detective with the Campton Hills police department and an accident reconstruction specialist.

“I’ve seen a lot of accidents that can be attributed to cellphone use,” Harper said.

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