SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A bill that bars Illinois drivers from using hand-held electronic devices passed a hearing Wednesday and is now headed for a vote in the State House.
The law would broaden the already existing cellphone ban and include any gadget used for communication or entertainment, such as iPads, video game devices and laptops.
But it is not a total ban: the use of devices is allowed if operated hands-free and by voice only, such as phones integrated into a vehicle’s panel.
“This amendment is part of a series of successful steps adopted by the state of Illinois that have been reducing the number of accidents caused by distracted driving in recent years,” said Rep. John D’Amico (D-Chicago), one of the bill’s sponsors.
Fourteen other states have adopted similar legislation, and one of its effects is the decline of overall phone use, which transit experts say is the ultimate goal.
Any form of communication is dangerous, said John Ulczycki, vice president of the National Safety Council, a non-profit that advocates for safety in driving though educational initiatives.
“After this law was passed in California, the electronic device use fell by 40 percent,” he said. “As phone use goes down, so does the number of crashes.”
Ulczycki said law enforcement is necessary because awareness brought by educational programs alone isn’t enough to keep drivers from using their devices.
“Studies have shown only 10 percent of the general population follow what they learn in educational campaigns,” he said.
In Illinois, truck and bus drivers already work under a 2010 law that prohibit the use of any hand-held device, and advocates want car and SUV drivers to be held by the same rules.
“It only makes sense if all drivers are following the same rules on the road,” said Matt Hart, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association.
Ald. Jane Grover (7th), of Evanston, Ill., came out in support of the bill and said her city enacted the law in 2010 and, as a unexpected result, it created a “high degree of awareness” regarding the dangers of distracted driving in the Evanston community.
“Our statistics support the bill and even drivers caught texting or talking on their phones acknowledge the danger of such actions,” Grover said at the meeting in Springfield.
The bill does make an exception in case of 911 emergency calls and for those who work in public safety, like police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers. Also, drivers can use their phones if their cars are parked on the shoulder of a roadway or when normal traffic has been obstructed in case of an accident, for example.
The law comes just as numbers of motor vehicle fatalities involving impaired drivers show a steadily decline since 2006 on Illinois roads, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the number of DUIs has also dropped since 2008, due to awareness campaigns and the poor economy, experts suggest.
Jay Keller, a lobbyist for Verizon Wireless, played down the role of cellphones on traffic accidents and crashes, saying even a mother talking to her children in the backseat can be dangerous.
“We need to look further than the cellphone problem,” Keller said.
Facing questions from other representatives at the hearing regarding aspects the bill does not cover, such as how to address a driver who is using their phone in case they are lost, D’Amico said there are a lot of other concerns when people are driving. “After we get this bill passed, we can look at the other issues raised,” he said.
- DOT to carmakers: Disable dashboard distractions (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- US government could ban in-car entertainment (mobile-ent.biz)