Committee asks Urbana to draft law limiting drivers’ use of phones

By Eric Heisig

The Urbana City Council Committee of the Whole directed city staff to create an ordinance restricting cell phone use while driving during its Monday night meeting.

Under the motion, the city plans to create an ordinance making penalties more severe for those involved in an accident while using a cell phone. The ordinance will also have a section banning text messaging while driving and include a plan for educating the community. The ordinance will be scheduled for a vote at a future meeting. In addition, the city plans to begin a yearlong study to find out how many accidents and traffic violations are caused by cell phone use.

Still, for Ward 1 alderman Charlie Smyth, and other members of the community, having a ban only on handheld sets would not be enough.

“There is research that puts hands-free cell phone use while driving in the same category as driving drunk,” said Daniel Lewart, Urbana resident.

Smyth said he would like to take the act further and ban all cell phones, because driving with a headset is just as dangerous as driving with a handheld cell phone.

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“The sheer act of listening reduces your cognitive power while driving,” Smyth said.

Brandon Bowersox, Ward 4 alderman, said that there is not enough information to have an outright ban, only because there are no cities in the United States that have a full ban. Smyth said much of the language for the proposed ordinance comes from Chicago’s current law, which bans all handheld cell phones but allows headsets.