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Despite qualms expressed by some Evanston aldermen, a proposal to ban any use of cell phones and most other mobile devices by car drivers won committee approval Monday night after a parade of witnesses testified in support of it.

Tim Schoolmaster speaking to the committee.

Despite qualms expressed by some Evanston aldermen, a proposal to ban any use of cell phones and most other mobile devices by car drivers won committee approval Monday night after a parade of witnesses testified in support of it.

The ordinance, proposed by Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, would expand the city’s two-year-old ban on hand-held phone use to bar use of hands-free devices as well.

Retired Evanston police officer and Northwestern University Transportation Institute lecturer Tim Schoolmaster said research shows that people using phones of either type suffer from a form of tunnel vision while driving and don’t see anything coming at them from the side.

Schoolmaster also argued that the $50 fine in the proposed ordinance “is too generous.” He suggested fines of $200 or $400 would be more effective in detering the behavior.

But he said the proposed related ban on the use of computers and two way radios in cars would create problems for police and firefighters in doing their jobs unless exceptions were created for them.

Ben Schapiro.

Ben Schapiro of 150 Dewey Ave., an avid bicycle rider, said, “In the last two years, almost all my near-misses as a bike rider have been with people who were on cell phones — except one who was drunk.”

Schapiro says the city needs to set expectations about what correct and proper behavior for drivers is.

Kevin O’Connor.

Kevin O’Connor of 1227-1/2 Isabella St. suggested a total ban might lower insurance premiums for Evanston drivers.

Richard Katz, of 409 Barton Ave., said the evidence is overwhelming that driving while talking on the phone is hazardous.

He compared phone use to smoking, and said that when towns enforce tobacco bans, usage goes down.

“Punishment works,” Katz said, “but it has to be significant. And $50 isn’t too punishing.”

He also suggested that people be required to complete an educational course on the risks of cell phone use before they could get their city vehicle stickers.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he had little objection to the concept of a ban, but was concerned about enforcement.

How would police know whether someone was taking on the phone, or talking to himself or singing with the radio, Tendam asked.

Sgt. Thomas Moore.

Police Sgt. Thomas Moore, the head of the city’s traffic patrol unit, suggested that it wouldn’t be all that hard.

He said during warmer weather traffic officers on motorcyles can pull right up beside someone talking on a cell phone.

“They don’t even see us riding up on them, and we can listen in on their conversation,” he said.

In the winter, it’s a little harder, but there are still a a lot of people using hand-held phones to ticket then, he added.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she would vote against the ordinance “at this point.”

Alderman Fiske.

She said she wasn’t yet convinced that hands-free cell phone use was so dangerous it should be banned, and noted that new cars increasingly come equipped with Bluetooth technology for hands-free cell phone use built in.

She added that she thought the city should try to stay in sync with legislation on the issue moving through the state legislature and that she was concerned about having widely varying rules across different North Shore communities.

She also suggested that bicyclists should be included in any ban on cell phone use and that lowering the speed limit to 25 miles per hour in Evanston might be more help in preventing accidents.

The speed limit already is 25 miles an hour on streets not otherwise posted, but about 15 through streets have a 30 m.p.h. limit and two, Golf Road and McCormick Boulevard, have 35 mph limits.

After Monday night’s 4-1 committee vote, the cell phone ordinance is expected to be discussed by the full City Council later this month.

Related stories

Alderman wants to expand cell phone ban

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.

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16 Comments

  1. Really???

    My bike is my main mode of transportation. I ride to and from work year round (South to North spanning the length of Evanston) while riding for errands and for fun other times. When I ride in the streets I ride as if I am driving a car. I stop at the stop signs and also stop for pedestrians in designated crosswalks. I too have almost been hit by a car, but not by someone on a cell phone. Most of the time it is impatient drivers who feel the need to speed to their destinations or to drop their kids off at school. They feel that it is OK for them to not stop at the designated Stop Signs but to slow down and roll through. I do believe driving while holding a cell phone is dangerous. Even when I see drivers holding the phone low and using the speaker phone option (really is that any safer?), I've been run off the road. I work near a One Way street that is plagued with people who are to lazy to drive around the block so they decide it's cool to drive the wrong way. Did I mention it's near a school?

    I've see people almost get hit by drivers ignoring laws that have been set in place and yet very few have been on cell phones. So the answer to this problem is no cell phone use at all? Including the Bluetooth that has been wired into the car? Why not ban all cars?

    Changing the speed limit is one thing, but enforcing it is another. It is the same when it comes to using a cell phone while driving. I am curious what the stats are to people being fined for smoking in the areas deemed a no smoking area? I see them everywhere and yet are they fined? Maybe the City Council needs to reevaluate what Evanston really needs and go from there. Maybe more businesses? Maybe helping community with taxes rather than driving them off?

    Not that it is any of my business but I am pretty sure I've seen Alderman Grover driving around in a van that has smashed rear end. Makes me wonder if this is a personal vendetta or if she really cares for everyone in the City Of Evanston? Maybe it's time to move?

    1. Like others, we are anxiously

      Like others, we are anxiously waiting for our youngest child to graduate from ETHS at which time we will seriously consider leaving Evanston for various reasons, which is sad and extremely unfortunate.

  2. Typical Evanston

    Just another example of the Evanston nanny-state.  How on earth would this ordinance be enforced? 

    REALLY?  We're REALLY going to send swarms of motorcycle cops out into the streets, peeking into people's cars, sneaking up beside motorists to parse the nuances of drivers' voices to determine whether they're on a hands-free call or just talking to themselves?  OHHH and it's really only even barely practical to do so in the summertime?  WHAT A JOKE!  Surely this cannot be the best use of a police officer's time when there are people being raped in the middle of the afternoon at Dodge and Emerson.

    I hope that the broader City Council has the common sense that this Committee clearly does not and kills this proposal.

  3. Another aldermen ploy to nickel-and-dime Evanstonians

    So now we have Evanston police advocating for the cell phone ban amendment that includes hands free devices, and they want big fines from $200-400.

    This is similar to the Evanston marijauana ordinance where anyone caught with pot under 10 grams gets a ticket. It's a big win for the city because the city found a new revenue stream.

    Here, the city and police want to expand the cell phone ban ordinance to hands-free devices for more revenue. Driver safety is the primary reason given for the cell phone ban expansion.

    So tell me, if that's true then why are city employees and aldermen exempt from the current cell phone ban? And why would state and federal employees get exemption under the proposed cell phone ban expansion?

    Are aldermen, city, state and federal employees better drivers? Do they have specialized training to drive while talking on a cell phone? Do they have extraordinary super power tunnel vision?

    What we have here is a blatant display of nickel-and-diming Evanstonians. The city is broke and the pension liabilities is a train wreck coming our way. Tim Schoolmaster who spoke at this meeting supporting the cell phone ban expansion along with hefty fines is a former president of the Police Pension Board who has been going around the state advocating that CITIES be accountable for their pension liabilities.

    This is what's happening to us folks. Our government unions are actively supporting tax raises, increased fines, transfer tax increases (something the Evanston Fire Chief campaigned for in 2008), borrowing more money and so on to make sure Evanston pays the unsustainable pension fund set to go insolvent in 2017. A big reason why our city taxes increased 11 percent in the past two years is to pay the ballooning pension fund.  

    Our police and fire chiefs recently retired in their early fifties, earning a six figure salary and receiving an annual six figure pension. Funny thing, these same two "retired" men are back working as police and fire chiefs in nearby towns, getting a six figure salary and earning time for another pension!!!!

    Meanwhile, city unions such as the Police Sergeants Union got another pay raise this year. Our local unions have not made much if any sacrifices during the fours years of this severe Recession. Not one Evanston firefighter was laid off or took a pay cut.

    Did you pay your property tax bill that was due six days ago? Did your property values go up?

    Get involved. Vote, campaign, donate, run for office and kick out our tax and spend happy aldermen who are only to willing to raise our taxes, increase our fines, jack up the cost of parking and now expand a cell phone ban they exempted themselves from to include hands-free devices just so they can find more revenue to keep their union supporters happy.

    It's time to fight the unions and take back our city and lower taxes for once!!!!!!!

    1. Crook County says that our property values have gone up.

      Every time you get a tax bill, or at least every three years, the County increases our property values, even though property values in our area have declined over 25 %, on average, over the last 3 years. Doesn't that tell you that our endless layers of government wants to continue handing out payola and pensions at the same level as before. It has been 4 years about talking about pension changes, like the private sector made, but they have always found a reason to push it off to next year.

      I will not blame our city government for these problems. I will blame the leadership in Springfield, the failed leadership in Washington, and the voters who put these greedy politicians in office

       

      1. Vote NO for the New School

        You ain't seen nothing yet. Our taxes locally and state wide are going higher – we have fixed obligations to pay.

        Pensions, healthcare, pay increases for new public employee contracts.

        What can you do?

        Vote to eliminate the Evanston Township.

        Vote NO for the New School – we can't afford it

        1. Relax Mr. Paine

          In due time, folks all across Illinois will familiarize themselves with Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code. The State itself can't file (but it can't be pushed into an involuntary BK either if it misses payments), but bankruptcy will be the only option for plenty of cities and Cook County in a decade or two. 

        2. No to wasting money on unneeded school

          I voted NO and everybody with who I I have discussed this subject said they are voting NO.

  4. How about enforcing the current law?

    I'd estimate that I see 10 drivers talking on cell phones every time I drive in Evanston.  I don't feel that the current law is being publicized or enforced enough to have had much of an impact.

  5. How dangerous?

    How does the data showing that cell phone usage is dangerous (has it been peered reviewed?) compare to having a discussion with a passenger, having a child in the back seat or listening to the news?

    1. Cell phone studies

      A long list of studies cited by ban advocates can be found here. (.pdf file)

      — Bill

  6. Well…if they ban hands free

    Well…if they ban hands free devices they should also consider banning gps devices if they can be seen from the driver seat, drinking coffee or sodas while driving and eating take away food…

  7. Glover lines up her ducks

    Of some of the many comments I have heard about Glover, and one of the few I can repeat, she sure is thorough when she lines up her speakers.

    Police Department:

    I admire our fine police department but someone needs to talk to Officer Moore when talks about sneaky dangerous manuvers on a motorcycle.

    Police Sgt. Thomas Moore, the head of the city's traffic patrol unit, suggested that it wouldn't be all that hard.

    He said during warmer weather traffic officers on motorcyles can pull right up beside someone talking on a cell phone.

    "They don't even see us riding up on them, and we can listen in on their conversation," he said.

    Who is going to be responsible when the driver puts on their turn-signal, make a left hand turn, finding that a motorcycle is sharing their lane. I bet it will be the Sgt. that told the officer to do a danger manuver.

     

    Retired Officer Schoolmaster:

    Retired Evanston police officer and Northwestern University Transportation Institute lecturer Tim Schoolmaster said research shows that people using phones of either type suffer from a form of tunnel vision while driving and don't see anything coming at them from the side.

    Schoolmaster also argued that the $50 fine in the proposed ordinance "is too generous." He suggested fines of $200 or $400 would be more effective in detering the behavior.

    In other words, the city can make even more money. So turn off the cell phone, relax, and light up a joint. It is only a $ 25 fine and you can become part of the mayor's pothead posse. Note: I would not smoke pot and become part of the mayor's crew)

    Schoolmaster add (note: I would not want our police or fire departments to be hindered by this ban):   But he said the proposed related ban on the use of computers and two way radios in cars would create problems for police and firefighters in doing their jobs unless exceptions were created for them.

    What about cabbies' radios and other people who use mobile phones for their jobs, or keep their jobs.

    What about state and federal workers being exempt from these rules. Are they less dangerous behind the wheel?

     

    National Safety Council:

    This not from the reporting of this story.

    The NSC is an independent organization, it is not related to any government orgamization, and has no power to set or enforce any regulations.

    This is their disclaimer as to the reliability of their recommendations from their web site, NSC.org :

     

    NSC Disclaimer

    The National Safety Council's official registered domain name is "nsc.org", and the council's official World Wide Web domain address is http://www.nsc.org.

    While the information and recommendations contained in the National Safety Council's Website have been compiled from sources believed to be reliable, the National Safety Council makes no guarantee as to, and assumes no responsibility for, the correctness, sufficiency, or completeness of such information or recommendations. Other or additional safety measures may be required under particular circumstances.

    Links made from the National Safety Council's Website to another domain on the Web shall not represent an endorsement by the council, or by its members, board of directors, committees, divisions, or staff.

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Schoolmaster and his study

      Can Mr. Schoolmaster prove that hands-free cell phone conversations are more dangerous than talking with anotther occupant of a vehicle? If not, why is he not proposing a ban on any convesations in a vehicle?

  8. technology may take care of distracted driving

    As many have mentioned there are many ways of being distracted while driving. I understand that work is being done on proximity detection which would keep a car from approaching another car or object too fast to stop, regardless of what the driver is doing.

    This seems to me the only fix for distractions and for following too closely, another common problem that routinely results in multi-vehicle pileups and deaths on the highway.

  9. Loud music and signs

    Since we're on the subject of distracted driving, there are many other things that really should be outlawed in Evanston.

    How about other driver's insanely LOUD music that causes your own car to vibrate and your ears to hurt when you're 20 feet away? How about drinking coffee while driving? Or as others have mentioned, how about talking to fellow passengers or listening to the radio?

    Will the city please post signs at each and every point of entry to inform visitors exactly when they are crossing the border into Evanston (since we seemingly have money to burn!) so they can make their own decision whether to follow or break the phone ban law. How is one to know otherwise???

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