Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Texting while driving ban put on hold

By Hilary Russell
A bill that would prohibit texting while driving, even if drivers are stopped and the ignition is turned off, drew heated debated in the Senate today. The measure is being revised. The sponsor, Sen. Martin Sandoval, said he would call the bill for debate again soon.

Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat, opted to pull the bill before lawmakers could vote on it so he could clarify whether drivers would get in trouble for using the GPS functions on their cell phones, texting while idling in traffic jams or texting while sitting on the side of the road.

The devices in question include cell phones with text messaging capabilities and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Navigation systems or devices that are built into automobiles would be exempt from penalty. The bill also would exempt emergency care employees.

Sandoval said he intends to alter the bill to ensure drivers would not be penalized for using their navigation systems on their phones. Sandoval said as long as drivers used their GPS devices solely for the purpose of navigation, they would not be ticketed.

Sen. Mike Jacobs, an East Moline Democrat, cited a statewide poll that showed more than 75 percent of those polled thought texting while driving should be banned. But, he added, it's another story if you're the one getting pulled over and ticketed.

Sen. James Meeks, a Chicago Democrat, questioned how a police officer would differentiate between texting and making a phone call because the same buttons are used to accomplish different tasks. He said Sandoval's measure would give too much latitude to law enforcement. “Now we're giving the police the right to examine individual motorists' cell phones to try to ascertain whether they were sending a text or making a phone call,” he said, later adding, “This is very dangerous.”

One of the main issues opponents have with the current bill is what defines the actual operation of a motor vehicle. Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, agreed that the intent of the bill was to minimize distracted driving. But he wasn't convinced that a driver stuck in gridlock on the interstate could be classified as a putting other vehicles in danger if he or she decided to send a text message.

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