House OKs statewide ban on drivers using hand-held cellphones
SPRINGFIELD, Mar 09, 2012 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
-- Drivers in Illinois would have to use a hands-free device when talking on a cellphone under legislation the House passed Thursday, but the bill may be in for a bumpy ride.
The measure now goes to the Senate, where a key lawmaker on transportation issues questioned whether the proposal should move forward.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. John D'Amico, D-Chicago, is similar to the city of Chicago's years-old ban on drivers using phones without an earpiece. If approved, drivers could still use Bluetooth, speaker phones or built-in systems.
One big, contentious difference is that violating the city ban results in a routine ticket. The state proposal would count the offense as a moving violation, the same as a driver caught speeding. A driver loses his license if convicted of three moving violations within a 12-month period.
Republican Rep. Jim Durkin, a former prosecutor from Western Springs, argued the legislation would turn "people who use cellphones into criminals" once a license is suspended for three violations.
"If you're driving on a suspended license, it's a class A misdemeanor," Durkin said. "You are handcuffed, you are processed, you get a mug shot, you get a criminal ID number."
Rep. Rich Morthland complained that the bill is far less needed in rural areas, saying, "Out where I live, you can drive miles without encountering another automobile on the road.
"To rush into this is going to be another blight against Illinois as a 'nanny state' that is trying to over-regulate the lives of its citizens," said Morthland, R-Cordova.
D'Amico defended the penalties, saying the legislation needed "teeth."
"If we want to get serious about trying to stop distracted driving and save lives on the roadway, there needs to be a severe penalty involved," D'Amico said. "You're taking everybody else's life in your own hands because you want to talk on your hand-held cellphone."
Following the vigorous debate, the House voted to pass the bill 62-53, only two votes above the minimum needed.
Senate passage is not assured, however. Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, suggested it might be time to slow down.
"Moving to ban cellphones statewide is a move in the right direction, but there are more pressing issues facing downstate legislators today, like closures of prisons, mental health centers and keeping people employed," said Sandoval, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. "Therefore, the climate probably is not ripe at this time."
Sandoval suggested the federal government should call on the automobile industry to come up with a "standard that would avoid having every state" roll out its own version of a cellphone ban.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, is a longtime traffic safety advocate who will view the bill through that lens, said Rikeesha Phelon, Cullerton's spokeswoman. Cullerton supports the concept of the D'Amico legislation but wants to examine the fine print before determining whether he will support the bill, she said.
The issue of banning drivers from using hand-held cellphones gained traction when federal transportation officials recently supported the idea.
In other action, the Senate again voted to cut lawmakers' pay by taking unpaid days off. The measure now goes to the House.
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