Evanston alderman to propose cell phone ban while driving

Marshall Cohen

Longtime driving safety advocate Ald. Jane Grover (7th) will seek in the coming months to ban all cell phone use while driving in Evanston, she told The Daily on Thursday.

Grover successfully pushed for a similar city ordinance in 2010 that banned handheld cell phone use while driving.

“There really is no difference between a handheld cell phone and a hands-free device when it comes to the level of cognitive impairment,” she said. “You still have a four times greater risk of a crash than if you aren’t operating a phone while driving.”

The Seventh Ward alderman said she plans to introduce the ordinance March 5 at the Human Services Committee meeting. The proposal is currently in the drafting stage.

“I’m optimistic that everyone will be persuaded by the data and the expert testimony during the committee and council deliberations,” she said.

Repeated attempts to reach fellow committee members Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) and Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) went unanswered Thursday.

Last April, Grover helped organize a Distracted Driving Summit featuring panel discussions with representatives from motor club AAA, the Northwestern University Traffic Safety School and other safety advocacy groups.

The event, held at Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave., aimed to educate young drivers about the risks of using electronic devices while driving.

“There is this whole generation of potential drivers who have been attached to their cell phones since they were 12 years old, and they don’t know how to resist using their phone when they climb into the driver’s seat,” Grover said. “Frankly, even my own children concern me as well.”

Grover said a similar concern for young drivers is texting while driving, which was officially banned in Illinois two years ago.

“There are too many heartbreaking stories of children sending a text message right before driving through an intersection and getting killed,” Grover said.

For some Northwestern students like Medill sophomore Manda Oppold, Grover’s efforts are nothing new. Oppold, a native of Hastings, Minn., hails from a state where texting while driving is already illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $300.

“If you need to take a call, you can just pull over or go to a parking lot,” Oppold said. “It’s such a distraction, and it puts us all in danger.”

Oppold added a similar policy would be especially important in Evanston, where there are many pedestrians and bicyclists.

Weinberg junior Rebecca Lessler, who uses the I-GO car-sharing system, said the cell phone ban would only affect her if she needed her phone GPS device to access maps.

“Other than that, I don’t have a problem with it,” Lessler said. “For safety reasons, it’s probably a good idea, but I have faith that people can make the right decisions.”

Regardless of whether or not the proposed ordinance is passed, Grover said she hopes to bring the “meaningful” issue to light.

“I’m just hoping that we have a really robust discussion about cognitive impairment and the dangers of driving while operating a cell phone – even if we aren’t successful in banning hands-free phone use,” she said.

Audrey Cheng and Alexandria Johnson contributed reporting.

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