Illinois lawmakers propose statewide ban on phones while driving

Marshall Cohen

Two state representatives introduced bills in the Illinois General Assembly earlier this month that would ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones.

It is already illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while driving in many Illinois municipalities and in nine states across the country. Evanston aldermen approved a similar ban that went into effect at the start of 2010.

State Reps. Karen May (D-Highland Park) and John D’Amico (D-Chicago) introduced separate but similar legislation Jan. 10 in the Illinois General Assembly.

The bills would make it illegal for a person to “operate a motor vehicle on a roadway while using an electronic communication device…unless the electronic communication device is used in hands-free or voice-activated mode,” according to the assembly’s website.

Illinois drivers would still be allowed to use hands-free devices, such as a Bluetooth wireless headset, under the proposed legislation. The legislation would not affect the current statewide ban on texting while driving, which was implemented in 2010.

“I sponsored similar legislation two years ago, but we weren’t able to get it passed,” May told The Daily in an email Monday. “Since then, a number of Illinois municipalities have passed hand-held bans, and the National Transportation Safety Board has recognized the severity of the problem and called on the states to take action.”

May’s legislation last year never made it past committee due to opposition, said her legislative aide Karyn Davidman.

After May’s bill was defeated, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White started a task force to examine the issue of distracted driving, Davidman added.

In recent years, nearby municipalities, including Highland Park, Winnetka, Glencoe and Deerfield have all imposed similar phone bans.

“You get the picture – you can drive up and down Sheridan Road, and you’re in and out of areas that do and do not have bans,” Davidman said. “We have been told by the municipalities that they would prefer a statewide ban as opposed to piecemeal laws.”

May, who represents parts of Lake County directly north of Evanston, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week her proposed bill is a small step toward completely banning cell phones while driving.

In Evanston, Ald. Jane Grover (7th) also supports an all-out cell phone ban.

Grover told The Daily last week she plans to propose an ordinance that would ban all cell phone use while driving, expanding the current law to include hands-free devices.

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

Grover said she welcomed the bills proposed by the state representatives, calling them “great developments” and said they would bring “great progress” for Illinois drivers.

“I know that Rep. D’Amico and Rep. May have been at the forefront of all kinds of road safety issues, and they’ve already done great work on it,” Grover said. “I would be fully supportive of this initiative on the state level.”

Although she said she wants to see a complete ban in Evanston, Grover said she understood the difficulties of adopting an all-out ban in Springfield and hopes that successful passage and implementation of her proposed ordinance will send a positive message.

“When you’re talking about using policy to drive a major behavioral change, you need to take baby steps,” Grover said. “A lot of initiatives have to be passed and tested at the local level.”

The Evanston alderman also mentioned a meeting she had with D’Amico last fall during which she talked about driver safety issues and offered to provide data from one year of enforcement of the cell phone ban in Evanston.

“I wanted to discuss all the good stuff he’s been doing, and I wanted to lend my support from Evanston to whatever he was trying to accomplish,” Grover said.

D’Amico’s proposed bill was referred Tuesday to the Transportation: Vehicles and Safety Committee, according to the General Assembly’s website.

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