New law in legislature would ban talking on cell phones while driving in Illinois

by Sami Azhari on February 29, 2012

New Law Against Cell Phones Illinois

The Illinois legislature is currently debating a bill that would prohibit the use of cell phones while operating a motor vehicle. At the present time, nine states in the country have already banned cell phone use while driving. However, hands free cell phone use is still legal in all those nine states. It is expected that Illinois would also allow use of hands-free wireless phones.

The initiative, HB 3970, was introduced by House Representative Karen May (D) from Highland Park. The new law would bring Illinois into compliance with the recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Federal regulations already prohibit truckers from talking on cell phones.

A ban on talking on a cell phone while driving is not exactly new Illinois. Several municipalities already have such a law on their books. For instance, Chicago, Evanston, Deerfield, Winnetka and Highland Park all have their own municipal ordinance prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) says that cell phone use was a cause or contributing factor in more than 500 vehicle accidents statewide in the first six months of 2010.

The most important question to be raised during this debate is whether or not the offense would constitute a moving violation. The Secretary of State will suspend a person’s driving privileges based on too many moving violations.

Another issue is whether the new law would violate the constitutional protections on privacy and free speech. The Constitution, specifically the First Amendment, says that the government shall make no law abridging free speech. Talking on a cell phone is, in fact, protected free speech under the First Amendment. Motorists also have a right to privacy within their own vehicles, though to a lesser extent than their homes.

The privacy protections guaranteed by the Constitution are important, because the public does not want the government to outlaw other types of behavior inside a motor vehicle that would be considered private.

For example, a law that makes it illegal to apply makeup in a vehicle would disproportionately impact one part of the population: women. This may be fundamentally unfair and unconstitutional.

There are concerns that lawmakers who are urging the passage of the bill banning the application of makeup while driving may be motivated by sexism. There is a stereotype the women are poor drivers compared to men.

Whatever action the legislature takes, it should be based on objective data, and not stereotypes.

In addition to the above issues, a ban on talking on a cellular device while driving may be almost impossible to enforce. The purpose of the law, to deter accidents, may not be possible because people who talk on cell phones while driving will do so regardless of whether they get a ticket. The fact of the matter is cell phones are a necessary part of life. People are going to continue talking on cell phones.

The Illinois Vehicle Code already has a ban on text while driving. 625 ILCS 5/12-610.2. Maybe this is enough.

Everyone can agree that Illinois is struggling financially. Both state and local law enforcement agencies are strapped for cash. There is not an unlimited supply of police officers to make traffic stops. While talking on a cell phone may be a public concern, it should not outweigh important traffic safety issues like speeding (625 ILCS 5/11-601) and reckless driving (625 ILCS 5/11-503).

Whereas a ban on talking on cell phones while driving seeks to prevent bad driving, the vehicle code provisions against speeding and reckless driving concern offenders who are already placing other people at risk.

It is a better use of resources for police officers to pull over those motorists than go after somebody who is talking on cell phone and not posing any clear and present danger.

It remains to be seen whether the bill will pass, and whether Governor Pat Quinn will sign it.

Since the ban on texting while driving has taken effect, please officers generally have not issued many tickets for that offense. They have been more concerned with speeders and reckless drivers, which is for the better.

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