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Ban on hand-held cellphone while driving goes into effect Jan. 1

Beginning Jan. 1, a statewide ban on using a hand-held cellphone while driving goes into effect. Drivers still will be able to use hands-free devices, including Bluetooth, ear pieces or speaker phones.

Communities such as Chicago, Evanston, Highland Park and Waukegan already have bans on people using hand-held cellphones while driving. Similar bans are in place in California, Connecticut, Delaware and New York, among other states.

For many, the new law will involve a change of habit, as people driving and holding a cell phone to talk seems so common.

Reducing distracted driving is a key motivation of the new law.

Up to 30 percent of crashes involve a distracted driver, according to Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jae Miller.

“A recent IDOT observational survey shows that, at any given daylight moment, as many as one in eight drivers in Illinois ... can be observed using a hand-held phone or texting device,” Miller said.

Miller added that a recent IDOT motorist survey showed more than half of Illinois drivers had used a hand-held device while driving at least once in the last 30 days.

Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police, said the new law does allow people to have a headset, ear piece or voice-activated command system while using a cell phone, as long as people are not holding the phone.

Bond said hands must be on the wheel, and the cell phone has to be in a secured area where it’s not distracting the driver.

Fines for using a hand-held cell phone while driving a vehicle range from $75 to $150.

People can lose their driver’s license if they have multiple offenses, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

There also are penalties when distracted driving leads to crashes, Bond said.

If a person is distracted and causes a crash, he or she can be charged with a class A misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $2,500 and less than a year in jail.

If the driver is involved in a fatal accident, the driver can be charged with a Class 4 felony and face a fine of $25,000 and up to three years in prison, Bond said.

“The bottom line is we’re trying to save lives by promoting safe driving,” Bond said. “Meaning hands should be on the wheel when behind the wheel and on the interstate.”

The National Safety Council in a statement said it doesn’t think the law goes far enough.

It said that the only sure way to reduce distracted-driving crashes is for people to be completely focused on driving and not talking on a cellphone at all.

“By only restricting hand-held phone use, the law fails to address the root of the problem – the cognitive distraction that results from having a phone conversation and driving at the same time,” the council said. “The only way to decrease crash risk is to refrain from using a cell phone for any reason while driving.”

Cell phone ban fines

First offense: $75

Second offense: $100

Third offense: $125

Subsequent offenses: $150

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