Have questions on cellphone use while driving? Pull over to read this...

News-DemocratAugust 23, 2013 

Cell Phone Driver - Graphic: AP

AP GRAPHIC

Drivers will have to put down their cellphones when cruising the roads next year or risk being pulled over by police.

But what exactly is allowed under the new rules, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this week? And what do local law enforcement leaders think of the law?

Madison County Sheriff Bob Hertz: "I think it's way overdue. I don't see the necessity for people to operate a vehicle and talk on a cellphone in the first place. I prohibit it for people driving sheriff's department vehicles; if they need to talk on the phone, they can pull over into a safe place and talk all they want. It hasn't impacted our ability to provide services, so I don't see why John Q. Citizen needs to do it."

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson: "This law is a good law. There are two accidents I've seen in the last five months with distracted drivers; one went through a median, the other ran into the concrete divider right in front of me. It's getting to be too dangerous. I think the law will bring this to light so people will comply with it; it's for their own safety."

Collinsville Police Chief Eric Van Hook: "There's a lot of genuine intention behind the law. No one would argue that distracted driving isn't a contributor to accidents, but there are a lot of things that distract from driving, like DVD players in the back seat or the radio... Any type of distraction while you're driving could be a contributing factor to an accident. Time will tell how effective the law is."

Still have questions? Here are the answers:

Q. Can they pull me over just for seeing the phone in my hand?

A. Yes. The cellphone ban is a primary-enforcement law, which means seeing you talking on the phone is cause for pulling you over. Sheriff Hertz said they don't plan to "make a big federal deal out of it," but if patrol officers see you talking on a cellphone, they're going to pull you over.

Q. What's the penalty if I get caught?

A. The ticket is $75 for the first offense, $150 for a subsequent offense and possible suspension of your license for a third violation. If there's an injury accident, however, another law signed this week by Gov. Quinn makes it a lot worse than a simple moving violation: a Class A misdemeanor with fines up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail. If the accident causes a fatality, it's a Class 4 felony, fines up to $25,000 and three years in jail.

Q, When does the law take effect?

A. Jan. 1. Current laws banning cell use in construction and school zones, and for truckers, bus drivers and novice drivers remain in force.

Q. So after Jan. 1, I'm not allowed to talk and drive anymore?

A. You cannot hold a handset to your head and drive. However, you can still use a hands-free set.

Q. What else can't I do?

A. Dialing, texting and checking emails are all specifically banned in the new law.

Q. What device can I use?

A. If you're using a Bluetooth or similar device that allows hands-free conversation, you can still use your phone.

Q. What about speakerphone?

A. So far, law enforcement is interpreting the law that you could use the speakerphone as long as you are not physically holding the phone while driving. Since the law does not address it specifically, ultimately it will be the traffic court judges who will make the final interpretations.

Q. What about the map function on my phone, or my GPS unit?

A. Navigation and GPS systems that are physically or electronically integrated into the car are still permitted under the act. Whether that also applies to the map functions on smartphones has not been made clear, even to law enforcement. Most officers we interviewed said as long as you are not holding the phone while driving, you are probably in compliance.

Q. What if there's an emergency on the highway or I see a crime in progress?

A. If you are using the cell solely for the purpose of reporting an emergency and are communicating with emergency personnel, you are temporarily exempt from the law, as are police and first responders while performing their duties.

Q. What if my car isn't moving?

A. If traffic is obstructed and the car is in neutral or park, use of the cellphone is permitted. Hang up before you're rolling again.

Q, What about across the river?

A, Missouri law has no limits on cellphone use for adult drivers. Novice drivers age 21 and under are not allowed to text while driving and can be pulled over for doing so.

Q. What other states have laws like this?

A. No state prohibits all cellphone use. Hand-held cellphone use is illegal for all drivers in 12 states and Washington, D.C. Text messaging while driving is banned in 42 states, and 35 states have additional restrictions on novice drivers. In addition, 75 Illinois municipalities, including Chicago, ban cellphones while driving.

Q. What if I get a call while I'm driving?

A. Pull over.

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