A bill is making its way through the Illinois legislature that would ban most cell and smart phone use while driving statewide. Presently, communicating with another person -- whether by voice, text or email -- via cell phone while driving is banned in Chicago. The proposed state legislation, HB3972 introduced by Representative John D'Amico (D-Chicago), would go farther, banning any and all smart phone use while driving unless done by voice command. Presumably, "app" use would be banned, not just the composing of emails and texts.
The legislation contains many qualifications and exceptions. For example, under the proposed law an "electronic communication device" would "not include a global positioning system or navigation system or a device that is physically or electronically integrated into the motor vehicle." (emphasis added). It is, therefore, not clear whether a driver would violate the law by using his or her smart phone to get directions, e.g. with Google Maps. Also, a driver may use "an electronic communication device by pressing a single button to initiate or terminate a voice communication." How a ticketing police officer could determine just how many buttons a driver has pressed while interacting with his or her phone is unclear. As with Chicago's cell phone ban, enforcement of a statewide ban would undoubtedly be challenging for law enforcement officers.
Chicago's cell phone ban has been in effect for nearly 18 months now. Its effectiveness seems minimal. Riding my bike around the city on a daily basis, it seems today as ever that it is down right rare to see a driver not using his or her cell phone. Driving in the city is unpleasant. With traffic congestion and road maintenance constants, drive times are very unpredictable. At the same time, people are busy with work, school, kids. Cell phones help people get things done and stay in touch. On the other hand, it is easy not to get caught using one's phone in the car. So people do it and will continue to do it despite the law. The anti-texting, anti-smart phones laws are welcome because they send a message that using these devices while driving is not okay. Also, if a driver does injure someone while using their phone such laws provide lawyers like me with another arrow in the quiver when it comes to suing the driver for the damage done. Still, if we are serious about banning cell phone use while driving, legislation will have to come from the federal level requiring auto manufacturers to create a "lock-out" function which would block all cell phone signal while the engine is on.