Evanston’s Human Services Committee tonight is scheduled to consider further tightening restrictions on cell phone use in cars.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward.

Evanston’s Human Services Committee tonight is scheduled to consider further tightening restrictions on cell phone use in cars.

The new ordinance, requested by Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, would eliminate the provision in the existing two-year-old ordinance that lets drivers talk on the phone if they use a hands-free device.

It would also expand the list of prohibited devices from just cell phones to also include laptop and tablet computers.

The ordinance, however, does not explicitly address the use of portable gaming devices, and it provides exemptions permitting the use of car radios or global positioning system devices.

It’s not entirely clear from the draft ordinance how a driver caught using the GPS feature on a cell phone, but not using its other functions, would be treated.

The ordinance would also prohibit use of “on-board communication devices” that are “hard-wired into the motor vehicle.” That would appear to prohibit the use of citizen-band or amateur radio systems or built-in communication systems like OnStar.

The draft ordinance would remove an exemption for cell phone use by city employees, which drew fire in the original ordinance for exempting the aldermen who adopted the rule from its restrictions. But it preserves exemptions for state and federal employees making calls while on the job.

How that change would impact use of laptop computers now mounted in city police and fire vehicles is not addressed in the ordinance.

The ordinance preserves exemptions for cell phone use to make 911 emergency calls and for using otherwise banned devices while parked.

Evanston’s existing ordinance is more restrictive than a state cell phone law. The state law bans drivers 18 or younger from talking while driving and requires other drivers to use a hands-free device in school and road construction zones.

Evanston’s current ordinance matches restrictions in Chicago — but other north shore suburbs have a pastiche of regulations — none more severe than the Evanston ordinance.

Those variations were the subject of a story in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, which noted that someone driving on Green Bay Road from Evanston to the Wisconsin border would experience different cell phone rules at least a dozen times as he or she passed through different communities.

State Rep. John D’Amico of Chicago has introduced legislation in Springfield that would strengthen state law to match the existing rules in Evanston and Chicago, but so far no proposal in Springfield would be as far reaching as the proposed new Evanston ordinance.

The existing strict Evanston ordinance has turned out to be a minor profit center for the city. During the past two years the city has issued a total of 2,979 tickets and collected a total of $125,000 in fines from violators. The ordinance carries a $50 fine.

Grover, in advocating for the more restrictive rules, cites studies reported by the National Safety Council that claim 24 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in the United States involve someone who was either talking on or sending a text message from a cell phone and that using a hands-free device doesn’t reduce the likelihood of an accident.

The Human Services Committee meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers at the Civic Center.

Related story

Poll: Should all cell phone use by drivers be banned?

Related document

The proposed new ordinance (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Kudos to Jane

    A ban on hands free devices (including the blue tooth installed in my vehicle that does not require moving attention from the road) is precisely the biggest problem in Evanston with its 25 and 30 mph speed limits covering most of the town. By squeezing the last ounce of freedom out of every activity humans engage in and charging an associated fee for "breaking the law," government will finally be able to fill these budget holes and even create new entitlements. Big Government for the win. 

  2. SHHH I can’t talk now…

    Really?  I understand not being on your hand held device in a school zone.  Truly I do.  I can even manage speaking hands free when driving in town.  I make it a policy not to text or surf the web while driving.  I get the importance of driving my 6000 pound vehicle in a non-distracted state.  But really Alderman?  Where does it end?  Will I be able to talk to my kids in the backseat?  Can I take a hand off the wheel to hold my wife's hand?   What I need to change my cd?   Maybe my wife or son should not be able to use their phones if they are in the car.  C'mon Really?  Let's really concentrate on what we can solve. 

    As the article states;

    "During the past two years the city has issued a total of 2,979 tickets and collected a total of $125,000"  Enforce what you can, do not burden the police into looking more deeply into cars.  I can stand on any corner on Ridge  for 10 minutes and see scores of non-hands free violators. 

    Alderman Grover, I promise not to call you– please stay out of my car!

  3. Talking to passengers

    Perhaps talking to passengers should be banned as well! I'm not certain how this is different from talking on a hands free device.

  4. Just seems a little nutty to me

    With all due respect to the Alderman, this seems like a little too controlling. I think we can all agree that cutting down on traffic accidents is a good thing, but I have to question first the efficacy of this ordinance in doing that as well as the practical application of it. I mean, will it then be considered probable cause to pull someone over for *appearing* to be talking in a car when alone?   Anyone else have any bright ideas on how such a law would be enforced?  Furthermore, how does the city expect to compensate car owners who purchased hands free systems (in the effort to abide by the existing law)?

    1. Good questions

      First, you would not receive compensation for the actions you took in order to comply with the old law. You would still have your blue tooth device, and my recollection is that there is SCOTUS case from the prohibition era saying the breweries did not suffer a "taking" because they still had possession of their brewery equipment even though it was rendered virtually worthless. I presume the same would apply here. 

      Second, the big government state of the 21st century requires ever more pretexts to be used to pull over people and this would be a great one. The mere movement of your lips while alone in a vehicle (such as singing along to a song, cursing if your sports team just made a bad play or yelling at another driver) would provide pretext to pull you over. The police report would read "I witnessed the defendant moving his/her lips while driving down Ridge and had probable cause to believe that he/she was in violation of Evanston City Code." But fear not, for if you have nothing to hide, you should not mind the inconvenience of being pulled over. 

      Come to think of it, the mere act of changing the radio station or listening to a ball game on the radio is a distraction and distracted drivers are dangerous drivers, therefore we should just go ahead and ban radio usage while driving in Evanston, too. 

  5. Kudos to Jane

    I applaud Jane's effort.

    She supported the effort to decrease speed limits that was defeated by the pro-pollution crowd on the council a couple of weeks ago.

    That would have made the streets safer and incresaed safety.

  6. Au contraire. Cell phone use

    Au contraire. Cell phone use is as distracting as driving under the influence of alcohol at the legal limit and in many cases is worse! The data strongly supports this. 

    People do not need to talk while they drive. Period. It is not a matter of "personal freedom" at all. It's a misperception that kills thousands of people each year, injures 20 to 30 thousand more people and causes multi millions in property damage. 

    Driving requires full attention to the road. 

    The attitude of "it hasn't happened to me" is merely one's statistical good luck.

    How would you feel about taking off in a plane in which the pilot was having an exchange of words with his wife or child or accountant discussing his tax returns?

  7. Kudos to Alderman Grover

    Look at the research.  Far too many lives are lost to those who elevate the need for a phone conversation/text message over personal safety (both their own and others').  Make your calls before or after you get in the car, and if you must, pull over when driving to talk on your phone.  Some people are self-aware enough to know they cannot both drive and handle a phone; unfortunately others who insist that they are the exception to the rule have made this kind of reasonable restriction a must in this technological age.

  8. Local ordinances are not the answer.

    Say what you will, good or bad, about Evanston's current cell phone laws and Ald. Grover's proposed expansion, this is an issue better addressed on a statewide level.  As the Trib article points out, it is ridiculous to expect people to drive through different communities and know the hodge-podge of cell laws in each community.

  9. Is Grover’s cell phone ban amendment political?

    Jane Grover voted for the current cell phone ban ordinance two years ago, which included the aldermen and city employee exemption.

    So what has changed since then that requires such a significant expansion of the cell phone ban ordinance? Of the nearly 3,000 people ticketed under Evanston's cell phone ban in the past two years, not ONE was a city employee or aldermen.

    What prompted Grover to do away with the aldermen and city employee exemption of the current cell phone ban?

    I think I know the answer but it's just a hunch.

    Word on the street has it that Tisdahl plans to step down and Jane Grover is preparing for a mayoral run next year. If true, Grover would be the Democratic establishment candidate.

    It's kind of hard to tout a cell phone ban ordinance in a mayoral campaign when you voted to exempt yourself, fellow aldermen and city employees from the ordinance.

    I hope voters remember that.

    Say, do you suppose Grover and a few other aldermen will vote for an aldermen pay cut?  If you recall in 2008, right in the middle of a severe Recession, the Evanston City Council gave itself a 20 percent pay raise. 

    I can't wait to hear how incumbent aldermen and the mayor explain that to overtaxed Evanstonians in next year's election.


  10. Good luck enforcing this one…

    Putting aside the ridiculous nature of such an ordinance, how do you think police would ever be able to enforce it?

    For instance, on your iPhone just do the following:

    Open settings, go to General, Reset, Erase All Content and Settings. 

    Every phone can easily be wiped in a matter of seconds. It's not only draconian, it's impractical.


  11. The work of government employees is more important?

    "The draft ordinance . . . preserves exemptions for state and federal employees making calls while on the job."

    Are the aldermen responsible for this grossly overreaching ordinance under the impression that the work of government employees is more important than the work of those employed in the private sector? That's rather presumptuous, to say the least.

  12. More enforcement

    2979 tickets is obviously not anywhere near enough.  Distracted drivers blatantly holding cell phones are still rampant in Evanston.  A stricter law won't do anything if the enforcement is too lax.  Maybe the city should hire somebody to stand on a busy street corner and photograph drivers holding cell phones, then photograph their licence plates.  I imagine that one person could easily generate 10,000 tickets/year.

    1. A police state is the answer?

      I agree that it's a problem. But, your solution is worse. Do you really want a police state? Because, make no mistake, that IS what you're advocating.

      Evanston has far more serious problems. Like violent crime and property crime. Distracted driving is, well, a distraction from the real issue in Evanston. Which no one seems to want to talk about. And why not? Do people feel powerless to do anything about it? Or do they excuse it because the criminals may be poor and/or minority? I don't get it.

      1. Duh

        Yup, that is what they want, a Police State.

        Here in Evanston, it fits the leftist Liberal ideology of government controling every part of our liffe.  Believe me, if any one of these Council Members (especially Grover I am sure) had their way, it would be bad, very bad.

        Remember the push for "Alderperson" to replace Alderman – led by Grover?  Tip of the iceberg.

        And, of course, cell phone bans are a priority whereby our fiscal situation is worsening and Evanston is approaching bankruptcy.

  13. How does this get enforced?

    Do the City Council members even think before they come up with these stupid ideas? Maybe Bill could ask Grover how she forsees this ordinance being enforced. 

    How are the police supposed to know the person is on the phone and not talking to passengers in the car, the voices in their head, or singing along with the radio? 

    Also, can you ask if the hard wired radios are banned, how can cabbies, bus drivers, ambulance drivers, firemen, and police officers going to communicate with their dispatchers? 

    Guess common sense is no longer a requirement for getting elected int his town! 

  14. Gretchen and Glover are wrong

    Gretchen, you got it wrong. The exception to the rule are those that can not multi-task. If you and Glover are not among of the majority, multi-tasking people, I suggest that both of you voluntarily refrain from talking and listening while driving a car. Listening and talking on a hands free cell phone is no different than having a conversation with a passenger.

    So, while driving your car, turn off your radio and CD player, turn off your phone, turn off your CB, turn off your laptop, turn off your police radio, turn off your walky-talky, and tell all humans in your car to zip their lips until you come to a complete stop and park the car.

    Or…… stop driving and take a cab…….. be sure to tell the driver to turn off the radio before putting his car in drive.

  15. Cell phone ban

    The City Manager must be delighted to see the Aldermen spending their time debating things like cell phone bans.  Every minute wasted on that is one less minute he has to worry about them trying to figure out ways to lower the cost of government in Evanston.  Trickle down economics clearly works when it comes to taxing authorities.  If they need more money they let the need trickle down to the taxpayer.  It works every time.

    1. Pedestrians and phones

      While a bit more extreme example than most—

      Tuesday 5 PM I saw an NU student walk against the light at Foster and Sherman with her head down, not even looking when cars were honking and one had to slam on brakes to stop.   She was completely obvilous to the fact that she came very close to getting hit. 

      I yelled at her and her reply was '…I was on the phone.'

      The public behavior of NU students shocks a lot of residents but the lack of common sense by many I see daily such as walking while on cell phones/texting and going into traffic or not making way [taking all of sidewalk or walking left and center] for pedestrians/bikers who are moving in normal/responsible ways, makes it pretty clear than universities do/cannot instill common sense.  In fact elite schools tend to instill the sense of being special [including that even cars hitting them won't hurt?] over schools were children of working class parents have taught common sense.

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