Hands-Free Cell Phone Law Begins June 1
City Council narrowly passes measure to ban driving while talking on handheld device.
The Highland Park City Council voted 4-3 Monday night that people driving in the city will have to use a hands-free device to talk on their cell phones beginning June 1.
The new law makes driving while using a handheld cell phone a moving violation with a minimum fine of $50 for a first time offense and a maximum penalty of $500 for multiple infractions.
While Highland Park currently has a distracted driving ordinance that can lead to a citation for cell phone use, it is currently a secondary violation requiring a police officer to stop a motorist for another offense, like speeding.
The new law makes driving while talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device a primary offense, according to Police Chief Paul Shafer.
Voting for the new law were Councilmen Jim Kirsch and Larry Silberman as well as Councilwomen and mayoral candidates Terri Olian and Nancy Rotering.
Mayor Mike Belsky and Councilmen Steve Mandel and Scott Levenfeld opposed the ordinance, favoring a complete ban of cell phone use while driving.
On Jan. 10, the City Council voted 4-2 to direct Corporation Counsel Steve Elrod to prepare an ordinance requiring hand-free devices while driving.
Belsky was absent at that meeting while Mandel and Levenfeld opposed the law, favoring instead a complete ban. This time Belsky made the margin ever narrower.
“Driving using a cell phone is still dangerous. I would support a complete ban,” Belsky said. “People have to learn to pull over [to talk].”
Though she didn't come out for a complete ban, Olian hopes people will make a personal choice choice not to use a cell phone while driving.
“People have choices. Each individual can take it upon him or herself not to [talk on the phone while driving],” Olian said. “I hope it will change behavior. This is a first step toward strong enforcement.”
The original draft of the ordinance called for a May 1 effective date, but there was discussion that the city needed until September to educate citizens. The council settled on June 1 after Shafer assured them it was enough time to inform the public.
Unlike the Jan. 10 meeting where six members from the public, including former Mayor Daniel Pierce, spoke in favor of a total ban, there were no comments from the public Monday.
Other action Monday
The council approved a plan previously recommended by the Planning Commission for a Taco Bell to replace the existing Brown’s Chicken Restaurant at 2566 Skokie Valley Road, just south of Half Day Road.
When the council met as the Committee of the Whole, it discussed current efforts to recycle rather than ban the use of polystyrene foam—commonly known as Styrofoam.
Highland Park’s electronic recycling center at 1180 Half Day Road currently is collecting the foam between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday and Friday and sending it to a recycling center.
In November the council was poised to ban most polystyrene foam uses in the city, but an effort led by Mandel to work with members of both the business and environmental communities has led to an ongoing recycling effort.
“We held off to work with [Natural Resources Commission chair Bill] Bogot and [Central Business District Property Owner’s Association leader] Rick Nelson to find a better way,” Mandel said.
According to Mandel, Dart sends a truck for the material when enough is collected.
“They filled a quarter of a semi [truck],” he said, describing the current public response.
Mandel hopes the current six-month experimental program will progress to curbside collection.
Bogot and SWALCO (Solid Waste of Lake County) Executive Director Walter Willis are pleased with the current efforts to recycle the polystyrene.
“The pressure is on. This is a serious thing in their business,” said Willis, who explained that polystyrene manufacturers have ramped up efforts to facilitate recycling of their products before other cities ban them altogether, as Los Angeles and Boston already have.
In addition to the polystyrene foam reuse, 314,000 pounds of electronics were recycled from the center in 2010 along with 995 fluorescent light bulbs and 897 batteries
Belsky also reported on his and City Manager Dave Limardi's efforts to persuade the Lake County Board to issue a request for proposal (RFP) to further study privatization of the development of a golf course at Fort Sheridan.