SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois lawmakers are moving to outlaw all cell phone use by drivers in the wake of criticism that the state’s limited new texting-while-driving ban is practically unenforceable.
Democratic state Rep. Karen May of Highland Park said the “piecemeal” approach of cell phone bans created by municipalities was too confusing for drivers.
“As a city council member considering a cell phone ban, I remember thinking that I could never accomplish all that I do without being able to talk while driving,” May said. “But as we’ve moved along and have hands-free technology, I believe now is the time to start advocating for more safety.”
May’s legislation would allow the use of hands-free devices and also makes exceptions for emergencies, GPS software and when the car is in neutral or park.
May’s proposal would expand last year’s ban on text messaging championed by Secretary of State Jesse White. Since taking effect Jan. 1, the texting ban has been under fire from police departments obliged to enforce it.
“That (law) is damn near a waste of time,” St. Clair County Sheriff Mearl Justus said. “I mean, when you look at somebody driving with a phone, you don’t know if they’re texting or talking or what.”
Justus said officers in St. Clair have given just one citation for texting while driving since the law began.
The texting law also bans talking on a cell phone while driving in a construction zone or school zone. May said those elements of the law are confusing to drivers, and a blanket ban on cell phone use would make more sense.
Henry Haupt, spokesman for White’s office, said the secretary’s office did not initiate or work with May on the cell phone legislation and would prefer to study the relationship between car crashes and cell phone use before expanding the texting ban.
“There have been multiple studies on the likelihood of crashing while texting,” Haupt said. “Texting had just become such a prolific problem on the roads; we really wanted to address that right away last year.”
But Justus said a study is a waste of time and money.
“It’s just good common sense that people ought not to be talking on the phone while they’re driving,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything left to study, just get it on the books and let us enforce it.”
May said the cell phone ban could fall by the wayside in a legislative session dominated by concerns about Illinois’ dismal financial state. Lawmakers traditionally only discuss “emergency” and budgeting legislation in even-numbered years, and May’s proposal hasn’t been assigned to a committee for discussion.
“If I have to limit my focus, this may not be the (bill) I choose,” May said. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be discussing this in the meantime.”