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Article updated: 3/7/2012 11:45 AM

6th District candidates weigh in on distracted driving

By Marni Pyke

From fender-benders to fatal crashes, distracted driving is taking a toll in the suburbs and nationwide.

The problem is so widespread the National Transportation Safety Board called for a ban on motorists using all phones and hand-held devices in late 2011.

So if the issue comes before Congress, where do the three Democrats running in the 6th District stand? Geoff Petzel, Maureen Yates and Leslie Coolidge are competing in the March 20 primary and the winner will take on Republican Congressman Peter Roskam of Wheaton in the November general election.

"There's a lot more to distracted driving than cellphone usage," said Coolidge, a Barrington Hills accountant. "There is documented evidence it is dangerous, and I would be supportive of a ban. It also would be helpful to have uniform laws as people go in and out of jurisdictions and (they) may not know the underlying legislation (in each community)."

Yates, a retired Barrington businesswoman, said statistics show driving with any type of cellphone, even hands-free, is hazardous. "I think it is perfectly acceptable to have a federal law that says -- when you're driving -- you should not be using another device and you also shouldn't be doing your makeup because neither is going to be very good," Yates said.

Petzel, a Lake Zurich business owner, differed. "If it's a hand-held device it should not be allowed, but if it's a hands-free device, I'm not opposed to people being able to do that," he said. "You see people reading the newspaper in the car, putting on makeup, eating lunch ... so if you say you can do that but can't talk on the phone with an ear piece -- it doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

The 6th District runs in a narrow curve from the Lake Zurich and Barrington areas to include parts of East and West Dundee, Elgin, St. Charles, West Chicago, Wheaton, Naperville and Lisle.

Another transportation issue that hits close to home is development of a western terminal at O'Hare International Airport. After American and United airlines pushed back against the plan, fearing it would bring unwanted competition, Chicago has put the project as a low -- and some say nonexistent -- priority.

But for suburban mayors around the airport, the western terminal is seen as an economic development essential.

Petzel supports expansion at O'Hare, provided that it's backed up by feasibility studies. "That's a distinction between myself and Peter Roskam. In the past, he has opposed any expansion ... if you look at the capacity at that airport it's necessary," Petzel said.

Yates, 75, had mixed feelings. "I'd like to see it built -- it would be a wonderful thing for the area -- but do we have the money? (The bankruptcy of) American Airlines is very detrimental to that plan to put in the other terminal. We have to work things out first with jobs and the economy. I don't think (the terminal is) going to happen until we get that straight."

Investing in transportation is essential, Coolidge, 52, thinks. But, "I'm not sure if expanding O'Hare is a principle priority. I'd like to see more investment in high-speed rail -- that would be a better solution long term. And I'm still concerned whether people directly impacted by O'Hare expansion have been adequately heard from."

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