Don’t forget: handheld cellphone ban now in effect in Illinois

This winter, the dangerously cold weather has been the biggest travel-related news in Illinois and across the Midwest. The frigid winter has so consumed our attention, in fact, that many Chicago drivers may not have realized that an important piece of legislation went into effect at the beginning of the month.

To combat the ever-increasing problem of distracted driving, Illinois legislators passed a law banning the use of handheld cellphones behind the wheel. Now, drivers can only use their cellphones with a headset or if the devices are operating in voice-activated/hands-free mode. The one notable exception will be for drivers making a 911 emergency call.

There is some evidence that a handheld ban could improve traffic safety. California enacted such a ban in 2008, and data from one of the state’s universities reveals that within the first two years after the ban, overall traffic deaths dropped by approximately 22 percent.

Of course, the dangers of talking on a cellphone while driving are not just limited to taking one’s hands off the wheel. Cellphone conversations are mentally distracting in ways that are more dangerous than talking to a passenger in the car. Some studies have also shown that using voice-activated technology in the vehicle can sometimes be more mentally distracting than using handheld devices.

The new handheld cellphone ban is a step in the right direction for Illinois. But if we truly want to eliminate distracted driving accidents and improve road safety, many additional changes will need to be made to our laws and the behavior of all drivers.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, “Another step toward preventing cellphone-distraction accidents,” Dec. 29, 2013