Law may ban use of phone while driving

By Megan McNamara

It has become commonplace tosee drivers talking away on their cell phones, paying less attention to their surroundings than a driver completely focused on the road.

“I’ve talked on my phone while driving my car before, and your eyes are definitely off the road; you’re thinking about other things, while there is a lot going on around you,” said Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart.

The issue of drivers talking on their cell phones became campus news with the recent death of Matt Wilhelm, graduate student, who was hit while riding his bike by a 19-year-old driver using her cell phone, and later died due to injuries from the accident, according to a News-Gazette article.

“It worries me that people get behind the wheel of a car and are doing everything but driving – drinking Coke, brushing their hair, eating, listening to the radio real loud,” Schweighart said. “When you get behind the wheel, you have one obligation and that’s to control the car.”

Schweighart said that nothing has been done in response to the tragedy, but that banning cell phones while driving will probably be brought up during future Champaign City Council meetings.

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In Urbana, legislation has been proposed to enact a law banning driving while talking on a cell phone, but it has not been reviewed yet, Alderman Robert Lewis said.

Erin Childers, a 2005 graduate of Millikin University and a friend of Matt’s, held a vigil in his honor.

“There were many bikers there who were very emphatic about wanting laws to be in place,” Childers said.

“They are working on legislation to ban all cell phones except hands-free ones with Urbana City Council members,” he added.

Nicole Pirano, junior in Education, Illini Media Company employee and a friend of Matt’s, expressed doubts on the effectiveness of a proposed cell phone ban.

“I think it’s kind of unrealistic, but probably a good idea. In Chicago they’ve already banned them,” she said.

However, Chicago has not banned hands-free phones. Pat Camden, deputy director of news affairs for the Chicago Police Department said, “We’d rather you weren’t talking on the phone at all, even if you’re on a hands-free one.”

” Mistakes can cost lives. Hopefully, the consciousness of the general public will realize it’s difficult to drive while talking on the phone,” he added.

Chicago imposes steep fines for those caught talking on cell phones while driving.

The fine for talking on a cell phone that is not hands-free is $50, while the fine for talking on a cell phone that is not hands-free and causing an accident is $200.

Camden said the emphasis is not on the fine, but on public safety.

“It’s a safety ordinance. Driving is a serious business, and when you’re talking on a non-hands-free cell phone, you don’t have both hands on the wheel, which is dangerous,” Camden said.

“It is distracting to the driver, because their attention is on the person they’re talking with,” he added.

Childers said that Matt’s mom, Gloria Shivers Wilhelm, wants to get similar legislation passed to prevent others from going through the hardships that she has had.

Childers emphasized that though the proposed legislation was a positive step in response to the tragedy, Wilhelm would have encouraged people not to live life in perpetual fear.

“If Matt was here, he’d still be out riding his bike,” she said. “And he would encourage people to get out and embrace life, and ride.”