Council Votes to Require Hands-Free Cell Phone Devices While Driving
Compromise falls short of total ban for Highland Park.
Motorists will soon have to use hands-free devices for their cell phones while driving in Highland Park.
The Highland Park City Council voted 4-2 Monday night to amend the existing distracted driving ordinance to require that drivers use a hands-free device for their cell phones while operating a vehicle.
Council members Jim Kirsch, Terri Olian, Nancy Rotering and Larry Silberman voted to direct corporation counsel Steve Elrod to draft the ordinance.
Councilmen Steve Mandel and Scott Levenfeld voted against the proposed ordinance, which will make failure to utilize hands-free calling on a cell phone a primary violation. Both councilmen favor a total ban of cell phone use while driving. Mayor Mike Belsky was not present.
From secondary offense to primary
Under the current distracted driving law, a police officer can issue a ticket to a driver using their cell phone only if the driver is stopped for a different offense, like speeding. The officer then has the authority to determine if the use of a cell phone distracted the driver, according to Police Chief Paul Shafer who testified in favor of the ordinance.
“We cannot make policy in a vacuum," Olian said.
The mayoral candidate added that the demand from the community to ban the use of cell phones while driving altogether wasn't there.
"We have to be sensitive to what our community will tolerate," she said.
An October survey that polled nearly 2,000 residents found that 46.96 percent preferred a total ban, while about 80 percent wanted to see a hands-free requirement.
Levenfeld and Mandel took more comfort in the 79.95 percent of survey respondents who believe that “the use of a cellular device in any manner while driving poses a risk to public safety,” according to the survey’s first question.
“We need to do what’s right,” Levenfeld said. “When you’re on the phone, you pull the car over and take care of yourself, your family, other motorists and the community.”
A ban in the business district?
Olian and Silberman expressed interest in totally banning cell phone use while driving in Highland Park’s central business district, but Elrod explained such legislation would be an exhaustive process.
“It is legal but you have to find justification,” said Elrod, who compared a ban in the central business district to the Illinois' statewide hands-free requirement in school or constructions zones. “A study would have to be done to determine justification.”
City Manager David Lamardi pointed out that such a study would take time and be costly. Instead, the vote for an immediate hands-free requirement went forward.
''An improvement and a start"
Before the council discussed and voted on the ordinance, six members of the public, including former Mayor Daniel Pierce and activist Aaron Wolff, advocated a total ban. They were followed by Transportation Commission Vice Chair Dr. Steve Rheinstrom, who explained the commission’s recommendation for a hands-free requirement.
“When talking to people in the community I heard overwhelming support for hands-free,” said mayoral candidate Rotering, explaining why she supported the ordinance despite the public comments at the meeting.
“I feel that having two hands on the wheel has to be an improvement, and is a start," she said. "I know that having a hands-free requirement has stopped me in my tracks as I cross into those towns (Glencoe, Winnetka, Evanston and Chicago) with that restriction.”