This week the House here in Illinois passed two bills focusing on the use of cell phones while driving. On Thursday they passed a bill which will require you to use a hands-free device or your speakerphone if you wish drive and use the telephone at the same time. Furthermore, any calls that you initiate while driving have to be calls that can be made with a single button press. In other words, they have to be one of your “quick dial” numbers. The only exceptions would be in cases of emergency and even then you have to appear in court and prove that the situation warranted the use of a cell phone. If passed this law would be classified as a moving violation. Get three moving violations and your license will be suspended!
The second bill, which was passed on Friday, is similar to Thursday’s bill and really only serves as a backup plan in case the first bill does not get written into law. This second bill places the same restrictions on cell phone use by motorists but only applies to emergency scenes. This bill seems to be focused the safety of emergency workers as it not only requires that drivers use a hands free device when going through an emergency zone but it specifically prohibits taking pictures or videos with your phones camera.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Distraction.gov website over 3,000 people in America were killed as a result of distracted driving in 2010. I have heard through various media outlets recently that distracted driving is poised to become the number one road hazard. I am against texting and driving, or doing much of anything pertaining to smartphones while driving, but I think an all-out ban unless you’re on speakerphone or some other hands free solution is a bad idea. We already have laws on the books that prohibit the use of cell phones in construction and school zones. We also have laws that ban sending texts while driving. Why aren’t these enough? I can get behind the idea of adding emergency zones to the list of areas where cell phone usage while driving is restricted but an all-out ban seems a bit heavy handed. For an experienced driver talking on the phone while driving is no more distracting than having a conversation with a passenger. It shouldn’t be illegal for me to call for directions if I get lost. If I’m on a long highway trip it shouldn’t be illegal to make a phone call to help pass the time. Furthermore, this law is essentially requiring that drivers own a fancy smartphone with voice command features or purchase a Bluetooth. I understand the dangers of distracted driving. I know people who text and drive and I hate it. I will stop texting with them if they mention that they are in their cars. But I shouldn’t lose basic freedoms because some people don’t have the sense to wait until they get to their destination before they carry on with their unimportant small talk!
As I stated previously, Illinois already has laws prohibiting text messaging while driving. Why are we adding more? Are there other things we could do to curb distracted driving? If not, how are officers to enforce a ban? I can already see how someone might argue that they had their cell phone in speakerphone mode but brought the phone close to their ear because they were having trouble hearing the other person. How could the court prove otherwise?