Friday, March 01, 2013

House votes to ban hand-held cell phones while driving

By Jamey Dunn

The Illinois House today approved a ban on the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.

House Bill 1247 prohibits the hand-held use of a cell phone while driving. The bill would allow drivers to talk on the phone if they use a speakerphone setting or a device that allows them to chat hands-free. The measure also has an exception for emergency situations. The legislation would allow police to pull over drivers they saw using cell phones.

The House passed a similar ban last year, but it was not called for a floor vote in the Senate. However, Senate President John Cullerton also said last year that he thought a ban on all cell phone use while driving “might be inevitable” in Illinois. “There’s no question it’s a distraction from driving,” Cullerton said at the time. “There’s not a big difference between whether you’re holding a phone or whether you’re not holding a phone. It’s the distraction in talking to someone that’s not in the car with you. It’s not what’s in your hand; it’s what’s in your head.” He said such a ban would probably come incrementally. The state has already banned texting while driving, as well as talking on cell phones in construction zones and school zones. In Illinois, drivers under 18 are prohibited from talking on cell phones while driving. There is also a national ban on drivers of large trucks and buses using phones while on the road.

Opponents of the ban passed today said that they think the end goal of supporters is a complete ban on cell phone use while driving. HB 1247 sponsor Rep. John D’Amico, a Chicago Democrat, said that he is not pushing for a full ban. “That is not where I intend to go,” he said. Some Republicans called the bill an overreach of government into people’s lives. “This kind of stuff is the ultimate, ultimate in Big Brother,” said Rep. Mike Bost, a Murphysboro Republican. He said drivers engage in many other activities behind the wheel, such as applying makeup disciplining children or eating, that can be distracting and dangerous. “I know it is dangerous, but there’s a lot of things that we do every day while driving in our cars that become dangerous. ... Where do we stop [on bans]?”

 Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, said “I readily admit” that the legislation has “elements of Big Brother.”

“This is the government telling you what you can and cannot do within the confines of your car while driving.” But Harris said that the intrusion is justified by the public safety benefits. He noted that technology would eventually reach the point where all drivers would use their phones hands-free. “Until that time comes, our job is to try to make the roadways as safe as possible.”

D’Amico said that more than 70 local governments in Illinois already ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, and it makes sense to put a consistent statewide policy in place. “People are dying every day, and if we can do something about it, we need to stop it.” The legislation passed on a 64-46 vote and now heads to the Senate.

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