Illinois Senate passes bill to ban cell phones while driving

nophoneFrom Doug Finke of the Springfield Journal-Register:

The Illinois Senate Thursday approved a bill that bans the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

The Senate OK’d the bill on a 34-20 vote. It now goes back to the House, which earlier approved the ban, for approval of an amendment added by the Senate stipulating that a first offense for violating the law is not a moving violation.

House Bill 1247 prohibits the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, although they could still be used if the phone is equipped with a hands-free device. Motorists could also use one-touch dialing and answering if the phone is so equipped.

A violation of the law would result in a $75 fine.

More than 70 local governments already have bans in place on using hand-held cell phones will driving. Eleven states require use of hands-free phones.

“This bill is about making roads safer,” said Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, Senate sponsor of HB 1247. “I’m  concerned with people dying on the roads.”

But opponents argued that the bill is flawed and doesn’t really address the problem of distracted driving.

“I think this is going too far,” said Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. “It’s going to make a lot of criminals of individuals who are conscientious drivers. We’re not addressing people eating in cars, reading newspapers in cars, adjusting radios in cars.”

Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, agreed. He said people can get equally distracted having a conversation with passengers in the car, or parents can get distracted by children fighting in the back seat.

“Where do we draw the line about where these distractions are?” Murphy said.

Mulroe countered with statistics showing that drivers who use hand-held cell phones are four times more likely to get into serious crashes. Crashes decreased by 17 percent in Evanston after the city banned hand-held cell phones while driving, he said.

The state has already banned texting while driving, and drivers under age 18 are prohibited from using cell phones while driving. Nationally, large truck and bus drivers are prohibited from using phones while driving.

Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, found it curious that use of a hand-held cell phone in a car would be outlawed while truck drivers could still used CB radios that require the use of their hands.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, acknowledged he uses a hand-held cell phone in order to talk to constituents while driving around his sprawling, 11 county Senate district.

“I spend a lot of time on the road. I use that time to talk to constituents,” Sullivan said.

But Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, said lawmakers often enact laws after someone dies tragically. This is an opportunity to act proactively, he said.

Springfield-area senators Sullivan, Sam McCann, R-Carlinville, and Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, all voted against the bill. Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, voted in favor of it.

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