Urbana delays phone decision

By K. Lamorris Waller

After a request from the city attorney, Urbana City Council members decided to allow more time to consider the proposed ordinance that would ban the use of electronics while driving. If passed, the ordinance would forbid any person from driving in Urbana while using a cell phone.

Much debate has gone into the proposed ban after the death of former University student Matthew Wilhelm, who was hit by a woman downloading ring tones to her cell phone in 2006. Support for the ban has come from many Urbana residents in regard to taking action, said Charlie Smyth, Ward 1. However, terms such as “a distracted driver” would need to be defined before a ban would be instituted.

In addition to these definitions, the Council must also consider how the law will be enforced between Champaign and Urbana and how effective such a ban would be. Acting City Attorney Ron O’Neal Jr. said having a one-year study to see how many traffic accidents are directly related to cell phone use may give the Council a better idea of how effective the ban would be.

“We have to get data from other states and communities to see if such a ban was effective,” he said. O’Neal argued that such studies would give the Council a starting point. With some states banning the use of text messaging in addition to talking on a cell phone while driving, the idea of allowing hands-free cell phone use was considered. However, Smyth said research shows that using a phone’s hands-free capabilities is no different than holding the phone because the distraction is still present. Dennis Roberts, Ward 5, said that with our culture being frequently introduced to new technology, this ordinance would encourage people to make better individual choices.

“Our culture gets constantly inundated with objects to distract us while we drive,” he said. ” But the more we put those things away and keep focus on driving, the safer we all will be.”