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posted: 5/28/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Ban handheld cellphones for drivers

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Illinois is poised to do the next logical thing in dealing with the ongoing epidemic of distracted driving.

And as we have noted numerous times, any effort in this regard is welcome if it can make our roads safer and save lives.

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A bill that soon may make its way to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk will do just that, so we support the ban on handheld cellphones while driving.

The Illinois Senate approved the bill, which allows cellphone use only if a driver uses a hands-free device. It is headed back to the Illinois House, which has approved a similar bill, and once those two are aligned, we urge Quinn to sign the legislation into law.

Critics -- and there are many -- say either the bill goes too far or not far enough. We say it's one more step in the right direction.

Illinois already bans all cellphone use for drivers under age 19 and bans texting for all drivers. Many municipalities, including the city of Chicago, ban the use of handheld cellphones, so this extension to the rest of the state also avoids any confusion.

"It's not uniform throughout the state, and that makes it difficult for people driving through different towns," state Sen. John Mulroe, a Chicago Democrat whose district includes parts of Des Plaines and Rosemont, told the Daily Herald's transportation writer Marni Pyke. "This will provide more safety on our roads and, hopefully, prevent accidents that lead to deaths."

Illinois would join 11 other states that prohibit all drivers from using handheld cellphones behind the wheel. Some safety experts say that even using hands-free devices provide distractions and therefore should be banned, but no state currently bans that use for all drivers.

"Our real concern is that (the proposed law) encourages people to think they're engaging in safe behavior which isn't safe behavior," said David Teater of the Itasca-based National Safety Council.

The National Transportation Safety Board in December 2011 called for a full ban as well. At that time, it said 13.5 million drivers are on hand-held phones at any given daylight moment.

"Needless lives are lost on our highways, and for what? Convenience? Death isn't convenient," NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said in a CNN article at the time. "So we can stay more connected? A fatal accident severs that connection."

Indeed it does. Some Illinois legislators argue that this legislation could lead to outlawing food or drink in cars as distractions. There have always been and always will be distractions, but the evolution of cellphone technology makes this distraction a priority. Even the top four makers of cellphones have banded together to fight against misuse while driving.

This is common sense legislation that should be approved in Illinois and eventually nationwide.

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