House votes to ban talking on phone while driving

SPRINGFIELD — That long suburban commute in your car could soon get a little quieter after Illinois House lawmakers voted Thursday to ban talking on the phone while driving without a hands-free device.

Supporters praised the House plan as one that would cut down on distracted drivers, and by extension, dangerous traffic accidents.

“The fact that you’re holding that cellphone in your hand, it’s too easy to be distracted,” state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, said on the House floor.

Critics slammed the idea as nanny-state legislation that outlaws common behavior.

And other skeptics of the plan wondered why lawmakers wouldn’t ban all activities that could distract drivers and lead to accidents.

“I drove down with a representative once who was shaving while driving,” said state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat who voted against the House plan.

After a 62-53 vote that split suburban lawmakers, the plan moves to the Senate for further debate. Senate President John Cullerton, a powerful Chicago Democrat, has expressed support for the idea this year.

Getting caught talking on a hand-held phone while driving would carry increasing fines, from $75 for the first offense to $150 each for four or more offenses. A driver legally could talk on the phone with a hands-free device or speakerphone.

Illinois prohibits talking on a cellphone in a work zone or school zone.

The state also has banned texting or sending email while driving, but police have a difficult time enforcing that law because it’s hard to see which phone functions — some legal for drivers and some not — are in use.

A Daily Herald review last year of more than 41,000 suburban traffic citations found that fewer than 1 percent were for texting while driving, even though surveys show far more drivers own up to texting while behind the wheel.

Politicians across the country have targeted cellphone use by drivers as more stories are told of deaths or injuries that stem from drivers using their phones.

Employers also are concerned, with some suburban companies banning phone use or hand-held phone use for employees driving on business.

Not everyone is convinced a hand-held phone ban is sufficient.

Scientists report that most people’s brains don’t handle multi-tasking, such as driving and talking on the phone at the same time, the Daily Herald reported in a series on distracted driving last year.

They say even talking on the phone with a hands-free device can dangerously distract a driver.

How they voted

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