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Article updated: 3/2/2013 1:08 AM

Illinois House: Ban cellphones while driving

By Mike Riopell

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois House Friday voted to make it illegal to talk on a handheld cellphone while driving.

Supporters argued reducing distractions for drivers could prevent wrecks and deaths behind the wheel.

"If we can do something about it, we should stop it," said state Rep. John D'Amico, a Chicago Democrat.

The measure was approved by a 64-46 vote and now moves to the Senate. Using a hands-free device would remain legal.

State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican, voted against the plan and protested that talking on a phone would become a primary reason for police to pull over a driver.

He said a cellphone is just one of many distractions that could hamper driving.

"What about monitoring the volume of listening to the radio," Reboletti said. "Or shaving."

The issue wasn't a partisan one. State Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, said despite other distraction, lawmakers should ban the use of handheld phones anyway.

"Our job is to make the roadways as safe as possible," Harris said.

The first offense would carry a maximum $75 fine, and making an emergency call to authorities would be exempt.

Pulling over to the shoulder to make a call would also be legal under the plan approved Friday.

A similar ban was approved by the Illinois House last year, too, but was ultimately never considered by the Senate. Senate President John Cullerton is a longtime traffic safety advocate who has expressed support in the past.

Texting while driving is already illegal in Illinois, as is talking on a cellphone while driving in a school zone or construction zone, as well as anywhere in Chicago.

A 2011 Daily Herald special report detailed the perils of distracted driving as well as the difficulty local authorities face in enforcing existing laws.

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