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House sends Quinn ban on using hand-held cell phones behind the wheel

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SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House Tuesday sent Gov. Pat Quinn a measure to ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving in the face of complaints that doing so is no more dangerous than eating or smoking.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John D'Amico (D-Chicago), passed the House along a 69-48 vote after passing the Senate last week by four votes. The bill now moves to Quinn's desk.

"What we're trying to do is just go back to basics," D'Amico told his colleagues. "When you took Drivers Ed and I took Drivers Ed, they told us to keep our hands at 'ten-and-two' - not 'ten-and-one-on-the-phone.'"

Under the measure, Illinois drivers would still be able to use hands-free headsets and 'one-touch' dialing, where drivers need not push more than one button to dial or receive calls.

But at least one House member thought the restriction went too far, claiming drivers already commit acts every day just as dangerous as using cell phones behind the wheel.

Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) used the example of eating a Wendy's 'frosty' ice cream while driving.

"The thing with a frosty is, unlike a cone, you have to use two hands," Franks said. "You have to move your hands to bring the ice cream to your mouth. So, at no time was I using two hands while driving.

"My point is the things that I was doing were probably more distracting than I would have been by being on my cell phone and speaking."

D'Amico countered, "That's irresponsible."

Franks admitted, "You're right, and I understood that. But that happens every day."

The House approved a similar measure in March by a 64-46 vote, but it had to approve the measure again after the Senate changed the bill to lessen the punishment for a first offense.

Under the revised legislation, first-time offenders would face a $75 fine and not be charged with a moving violation, which could raise auto-insurance premiums. But fines would grow to $100 for a second offense, $125 for a third, and $150 after four or more offenses.

The bill's backers have included Verizon, the Illinois Trucking Association, the Secretary of State's office and the AAA Chicago Motor Club. The Illinois Licensed Beverage Association opposes the bill.

Quinn's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but later said Quinn will "review the bill once it reaches his desk." The bill will become effective Jan. 1, 2014 if Quinn signs it into law.

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