SPRINGFIELD-In a bid to improve highway safety, the Illinois Senate Thursday voted to ban motorists from using hand-held cell phones while driving despite complaints it amounted to an unwarranted government intrusion.
The bill sponsored by Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) cleared the Senate by a 34-20 vote and would still permit the use of cell phone headsets and allow drivers to press their phones once either to start or end phone conversations. The plan moves to the House, which passed an earlier version.
"This bill is all about making the roads safer," Mulroe said.
During a floor debate that lasted for more than an hour, Mulroe cited statistics from Evanston, which has had a similar ban in place for several years and experienced a 17-percent drop in accidents since the prohibition was instituted.
Under Mulroe's legislation, those ticketed would face a $75 fine on the first offense, which would not be considered a moving violation capable of raising auto-insurance premiums. Fines would grow to as much as $150 after four or more offenses.
"I don't want you to end up under a semi truck with your head cut off or you crashing into a tree or oncoming traffic. If you need to make that phone call and it's so important to make that phone call at that moment, get somewhere safe to make it, then get back on the road," Mulroe told his Senate colleagues.
Republicans and a handful of Downstate and city Democrats lined up against the legislation, pointing out how the state isn't legislating against other distractions while driving like misbehaving children in the backseat, eating, applying makeup or even talking with a passenger.
"This is this is just one more step toward us losing essential freedoms in the interest of safety," said state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) told Mulroe and some of his fellow Senate Democrats.
"I don't know frankly I'm any more distracted with the hands-free, with the phone to my ear, than I am when I have a person in the passenger seat, and I'm having a lively conversation about that 67-percent income-tax increase you passed," Murphy said.