Are you ready for the hand-held cellphone ban?

News-DemocratDecember 28, 2013 

The law banning Illinois motorists from holding their cellphones while driving goes into effect on Wednesday and the crackdown has prompted a variety of reaction.

Some call it an inconvenience, but a necessity. Others don't want to be told what they can and can't do inside their own car.

Either way, if you want to talk on your phone while driving, you will have to use a hands-free device, like Bluetooth or a speaker system, or face a $75 fine.

St. Louis resident Nick Lebbing believes the law only provides law enforcement with more revenue and may be difficult to enforce.

"I'm sure it will cut back on accidents and stuff like that," Lebbing said. "At the same time, people are still going to do it."

But other area drivers believe sacrificing convenience for safety is well worth it.

"I think it will definitely cut down on people being reckless," said Jeff Pinkel, of Mascoutah. "I've seen people cutting each other off while they're on their phone. So I think it's definitely a good thing."

"You see a lot of people who aren't paying attention because they're carrying on a conversation," said Trenton resident Susan Moffat. "So I think it's a great idea."

Lebanon resident Chase Fann said, "I don't answer the phone when I'm on the road. So that won't affect me at all."

Others, like Swansea resident Nancy Foster, said they only talk on their cellphones while driving with hands-free devices.

"I have a vehicle where it goes right through the speaker system," Foster said. "So even before that, with all of the technology and the movement toward that, if the phone rang, I ignored it. It could wait until I got home. I don't text and I don't feel a need to talk while I'm driving."

"I usually have my ear phones on or else I have it on speaker," said Mary Schaefer, who lives in Belleville. "I don't like to hold it to my ear."

People who violate the hand-held phone law face a $75 fine for the first offense, a $125 for the second offense and $150 for the third or subsequent offense. Drivers who cause an accident that kills or injures another person would face much more substantial penalties. If a person is injured, the driver could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. If a person is killed, the defendant could be charged with a Class 4 felony and receive a sentence up to three years in jail with up to a $250,000 fine.

However, in the event of an emergency, drivers will be allowed to legally make hand-held calls while driving.

Illinois is just the latest state to enact such a law. By New Year's Day, 12 states and the District of Columbia will have done so. Illinois, the District of Columbia and 40 other states have already banned texting while driving.

Despite the push for these restrictions, researchers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., have found there is little difference in the rate of auto accidents between states outlawing hand-held cellphone calls and those that have not.

According to the institute's research from 2005, drivers in Western Australia who talked on either hands-free and hand-held cellphone devices while driving were four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves than those who did not talk on a cellphone at all while behind the wheel.

Institute spokeswoman Kim Stewart said that any electronic gadget can distract a driver. She also said tuning a radio, eating, drinking, grooming or talking with other passengers is just as distracting and can potentially cause accidents.

"We think it's the conversation that is self distracting," Stewart said. "We would recommend focusing on the main task, which is driving."

Local cellphone retailers seem to be cashing in as sales of hands-free devices have recently increased. A sales representative from the T-Mobile store in Fairview Heights said he and his co-workers have also had to educate the general public about the new law.

At the Verizon store in Edwardsville, sales representative Jamie Cann said she has recently seen more Bluetooth headsets and cellphone cradles that attach to dashboards being sold. She said these devices retail from $30 to $80.

"Some people don't know about it, but those you who do are definitely responding," Cann said. "People are definitely responding."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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