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Statewide cellphone ban begins Wednesday

In 2010 the no texting law was a start to deterring distracted driving and starting in 2014 a stricter law has local officials hopeful for safer roads.

"With increased traffic fatalities due to distracted driving, they had to address it," said Jason Helland, Grundy County State's Attorney.

Statewide, cellphone use while driving without a hands-free device will be banned starting Wednesday. Drivers will still be able to use a cellphone with the use of hands-free devices such as Bluetooth, ear pieces or speaker phones.

Communities such as Chicago, Evanston, Highland Park and Waukegan already have bans on people using hand-held cellphones while driving. Similar bans are in place in California, Connecticut, Delaware, New York among other states.

Reducing distracted driving is a key motivation of the new law.

Up to 30 percent of crashes involve a distracted driver, according to Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jae Miller.

"A recent IDOT observational survey shows that, at any given daylight moment, as many as one in eight drivers in Illinois ... can be observed using a handheld phone or texting device," Miller said.

Miller added that a recent IDOT motorist survey showed more than half of Illinois drivers had used a handheld device while driving at least once in the last 30 days.

Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police, said the new law does allow people to have a headset, ear piece or voice activated command system while using a cellphone, as long as people are not holding the phone.

Bond said hands must be on the wheel and the cellphone has to be in a secured area where it's not distracting the driver.

Fines for being cited for using a hand-held cellphone while driving a vehicle range from $75 to $150. People can lose their driver's license if they have multiple offenses, according to IDOT.

There also are penalties when distracted driving leads to crashes, Bond said. If a person is distracted and causes a crash, he can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $2,500 and less than a year in jail.

If the driver is involved in a fatal accident, the driver can be charged with a Class 4 felony and face a fine of $25,000 and up to three years in prison, Bond said.

"The bottom line is we're trying to save lives by promoting safe driving," Bond said. "Meaning hands should be on the wheel when behind the wheel and on the interstate."

Helland said the penalties laid out in the new law are a bit concerning because he feels they should be heavier. For instance, he said if a driver using an electronic device is involved in a fatal accident, they should be charged with a Class 3 felony.

"My position has always been if someone uses an electronic device while driving causing distracted driving and they kill someone, that is reckless homicide," Helland said. "It should be a Class 3 felony, which has a higher form of punishment."

The National Safety Council in a statement said it doesn't think the law goes far enough. It said the only sure way to reduce distracted-driving crashes is for people to be completely focused on driving and not talking on a cellphone at all.

"By only restricting handheld phone use, the law fails to address the root of the problem – the cognitive distraction that results from having a phone conversation and driving at the same time," the council said. "The only way to decrease crash risk is to refrain from using a cellphone for any reason while driving."

Like the previous no texting laws, Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan has concerns with the enforcement of the new law.

It is the police officer's word against the offender. Although proving the offense for general cellphone use as opposed to proving someone was texting will be easier, he said.

"If a phone is in their hand, as a police officer, I'm going to assume they are doing something on the phone," Callahan said.

From the prosecution perspective, Helland said he is not worried. Within a few months of trials the local judges will have answered what is considered cellphone use, which his office will argue is writing and reading texts, social media and talking on the phone without a hands-free device.

"The language of the law makes the offense much easier to prosecute than what it was before [with the texting law]," he said.

Cell phone ban fines

First offense: $75
Second offense: $100
Third offense: $125
Subsequent offenses: $150

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