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House OKs cellphone ban for drivers

Measure now goes to Senate

SPRINGFIELD (AP) – Drivers would not be allowed to use their cellphones while on the road under a measure the Illinois House endorsed Friday.

The measure would force drivers to use hands-free devices or a speaker-phone feature for calls while motoring. A 64-46 vote sent the legislation to the Senate.

Such a law could prevent accidents and fatalities by keeping drivers focused on the road, supporters said.

“A hand-held cell phone is a huge distraction while driving a car,” said Rep. John D’Amico, a Chicago Democrat.

D’Amico said 76 Illinois communities – including Chicago – already ban chatting and driving.

Police would be able ticket drivers holding a cellphone under the proposed legislation, which makes an exception for motorists during an emergency.

Opponents said the bill is unfair to people with hearing problems and those who can’t afford high-tech gadgets such as ear pieces or telecommunications systems built into automobiles.

“Low-income individuals in the state are going to have a hard time, particularly people who are unemployed, because this is not cheap technology,” said Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs.

Others argued the bill represents undue government intervention into private practices. Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, said such a law could lead to other regulations restricting motorists.

“What about shaving, eating McDonalds, having children in the back seat?” Reboletti said.

As many as 80 percent of the more than 220 million people in the United States who subscribe to wireless services use their phones while driving, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Ten states – including California, New York and West Virginia – and Washington. D.C.. ban hand-held phone use by all drivers.

Illinois lawmakers banned texting while driving in 2009. Since then, D’Amico said, more than 3,500 have been cited for violating the law.

Critics questioned whether that law and the potential ban on hand-held phone use will be enforced.

“Every direction you look there’s people texting while driving,” said Rep. Anthony DeLuca, a Democrat from Chicago Heights. “What reason do we have to believe that it’s going to be enforced.”

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