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Evanston officials to vote on cell phone driving ban

The Daily Northwestern: Evanston officials to vote on cell phone driving ban

By Erin Kim

The Evanston City Council may vote on a proposal later that would take a recent statewide ban on cell phone use while driving one step further in the coming weeks.

The council is slotted to act on the proposal, which will make talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving illegal, on Jan. 25. The Human Services Committee recommended approval of the ordinance, which was originally proposed by Ald. Jane Grover (7th), on Jan. 5.

Grover said she believes passing the ordinance would be beneficial for drivers and pedestrians.

“It makes sense,” she said. “I run, bike and drive, and I find that in those instances where there’s a close call, that often involves drivers with cell phones.”

The proposed ordinance comes in light of Illinois’ recent ban on text-messaging, checking voice mail and browsing the Web on a mobile device while driving. The statewide ban, which went into effect Jan. 1, also prohibits the use of cell phones when driving in construction or school zones.

Evanston Bicycle Club President James Heller said limiting cell phone usage for drivers would make the roads much safer for bicyclists.

The group bikes together as often as every day of the week during good weather, with a leader directing the members, Heller said. As the cyclists approach an intersection, they attempt eye contact with drivers. But if drivers are on their cell phones, it is harder for the bikers to stay safe, Heller said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation created a Web site dedicated to raising awareness on distracted driving, www.distraction.gov. On its site, the federal agency reported “distraction from cell phone use while driving (hand-held or hands-free) delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.”

Although nearly 6,000 people died in distracted driving incidents in 2008, the number of cell phone-related cases is unknown, according to the department. Additionally, a 2008 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found an overall increase in the use of electronic devices among drivers.

“It’s a significant problem, so naturally not only do we support (the ordinance), but we want to go further and have all cell phone use banned,” Heller said, referencing the rates of distracted driving incidents.

In Illinois, drivers cannot even use their cell phones on the road until they are 19 years-old, said Tracey Wallace, a classroom instructor at Evanston’s American Defensive Driving School.

“Anything that can make drivers safer and more attentive while on the road is great,” he said. “The texting law is great, and banning cell phone use is good also because drivers would be more attentive.”

Grover said she would like to completely ban all cell phone use—hands-free or not.

“I would like to make it a safer place for cyclists, pedestrians and other drivers,” she said. “I hope that the outcome will be a better general sense of driving and giving full attention—two eyes and two hands on the road.”