House passes statewide ban on cell use while driving

Tribune reporter

SPRINGFIELD — A new proposal to ban the use of cell phones while driving throughout Illinois passed the House on Friday along with two other traffic safety measures.

The proposed ban, sponsored by Rep. John D’Amico, D-Chicago, would prohibit hand-held devices from being used by drivers except in emergencies.

Drivers would have to talk on the phone either through hands-free features or after they had pulled to the side of the road. The bill goes to the Senate, where a similar bill died last year.

D’Amico said said there is a growing realization that Illinois has a patchwork of cell phone regulations from community to community. The Tribune reported last year that 76 municipalities had enacted cell phone restrictions.

“Right now, everybody is driving town to town, and you don’t know where you can and can’t pick up the phone — let alone, it’s a huge distraction while you’re driving the car,” said D’Amico. “We want to do everything we can here to try and reduce accidents and fatalities.”

But Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, likened the proposed ban to an Orwellian “Big Brother” crackdown that goes a step too far. Some lawmakers also questioned if a ban would make it harder for drivers with hearing problems.

Yet one poignant argument for the bill came when Democratic Rep. Laura Fine of Glenview said her husband lost an arm in a crash caused by a distracted driver.

“A phone call is not that important,” she said, adding, “If your family is impacted by a distracted driver, it is devastating.”

Another D’Amico bill, pushed by Secretary of State Jesse White, would stop the issuances of graduated driving licenses to anyone under age 18 who has an unresolved traffic ticket.

Commonly known as “Kelsey’s Law,” the bill is named after Kelsey Little, a Minooka teen who was seriously injured in a 2011 auto accident caused by a person driving with only a learner’s permit.

The third bill, known as “Patricia’s Law,” would ban drivers involved in fatal crashes from receiving only court supervision, a mild form of probation.

D’Amico said the issue needed to be addressed because the punishment should be stiffer when drivers wind up “killing somebody.” The bill is named after Patricia McNamara of Rockford, who was killed in a crash for which the driver received court supervision

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