Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Council might ban cell phone use by drivers

The woman applying her makeup in the rearview mirror. The teenager maneuvering a Big Mac. The mother searching under the seat for the pacifier. And the man, that man, leaning against a cell phone.

An ordinance banning cell phones, like the one recently passed in Chicago, might help cut distractions for Evanston drivers.

Aldermen are not ready to commit to a plan.

“If there is a passenger in the car are we going to restrict any kind of talking?” Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) asked at last week’s Administration and Public Works Committee meeting.

Chicago aldermen passed a cell phone ban in May. Their ordinance cited a study from the New England Journal of Medicine that says cell phone use quadruples the risk of an automobile accident.

“Hands-free cell phone devices eliminate blockage of peripheral vision and free both hands for maximum vehicle control,” wrote Chicago Ald. Burton F. Natarus (42nd) in a July letter to the Chicago Sun-Times.

He added that 40 countries outlaw the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. When Japan limited calls to hands-free devices, the number of cell-phone related accidents dropped 61 percent.

Natarus also mentioned a University of Michigan survey, in which more than 80 percent of the 752 people surveyed said driving while using a cell phone is a serious safety risk.

The Chicago ordinance exempts emergency-vehicle operators, 911 calls and hands-free phones. Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said the City Council should not single out hand-held devices like Chicago did.

“I’ve seen people driving down the street with the little thing in their ear and still coming over into my lane,” she said.

But hands-free units seem safer from the common sense standpoint, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said.

“Talking on the cell phone is not particularly safe no matter what sort of device you use,” said Medill graduate student Daniel Allen. “But that’s an extra hand free, so it has to do something.”

That is the general sentiment but not necessarily an accurate one, said Tate Kubose, a researcher who has conducted several studies on cell phone usage at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Hands-free is not the solution,” he said.

Kubose said most recent studies suggest that there is little or no difference in the effects of talking on a hands-free or hand-held unit.

He said chatting on a phone is probably worse than talking to another person in a car. Passengers share the driver’s environment and know when to be quiet, Kubose said. A woman would set down her lipstick before a sharp turn, but she might not want to end a call, he said.

“It’s not having two hands on the wheel,” said Kris Lathan, the director of public affairs for the American Automobile Association Chicago Motor Club. “It’s having your mind on the road.”

Although AAA supports keeping a cell phone in the car for emergencies, Lathan said the organization discourages members from using cell phones while driving.

Evanston aldermen also questioned whether the city could enforce an ordinance to ban cell phones.

Motorists in Chicago caught using a cell phone face a $50 fine, which goes up to $200 if they are involved in an accident.

“It’s a good idea in the area of revenue,” Ald. Anjana Hansen (9th) said. “But I still see people driving in Chicago (with cell phones).”

Reach Elizabeth Gibson at [email protected].

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Council might ban cell phone use by drivers