Urbana ordinance bans texting while driving, enacts fine

By Katie O'Connell

The Urbana City Council voted 6-1 Monday night in favor of an ordinance banning the use of text messaging while driving. The ordinance also enacts a $750 fine for those who are using cell phones while driving during the time of an accident.

Additionally, the ordinance requires that the Urbana Police Departments track the frequency of car accidents where cell phone usage plays a role. The report will span from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009 and with finding being presented to the council afterwards.

The ordinance does include a clause that would make some city government workers exempt, saying that “all law enforcement, fire rescue personnel, emergency vehicle operators, public works personnel and other government personnel are exempt from this section if a mobile communications device is a piece of equipment necessary to the normal functions of their position.”

Prior to the vote, an Urbana citizen spoke on behalf of taxi companies, saying that it was unfair for taxis to not be able to use cell phones as they are a vital part of their business.

Ward 5 council member Dennis Roberts said that taxis would still be able to use their cell phones for calling clients, but that the ban would only affect text messaging privileges.

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    “Certainly we understand that taxis need to make calls,” Roberts said.

    Ward 6 council member Heather Stevenson was the only member to vote against the ordinance, saying that it was unfair to make a citizen pay $750 when Urbana is still in the process of conducting a study about the correlation of cell phone usage and car accidents. Stevenson said that the council should first do the study and then enact the fine based on the findings.