SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — For incessant multitaskers who can't stop talking while driving, life will include some bitter medicine when the new year rolls in.
Starting Jan. 1, motorists can talk and drive only if they use a hands-free device to conduct cellphone conversations. That will dramatically change the day-to-day routine for millions of Illinoisans, or force them to shop around for yet another high-tech device for the car.
The uniform ban supplements the state's current ban on texting and replaces assorted local laws on cellphone use that vary from town to town, including Chicago, where a cellphone ban has been in place since 2006.
Violators face fines starting at $75, and repeat offenses bring the possibility of a suspended license.
The thought is sobering for Josh Clark, who commutes 30 miles from his home in Lincoln to work in Springfield each day. Clarks says he spends, on average, 75 percent of his car time on the phone, and foresees a different kind of distraction and inconvenience with the new rules and people using hands-free phone technology.
"Getting it (the Bluetooth) to sync is more distracting than holding a phone to your ear," Clark said.
State Sen. John Mulroe, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the law, said witnessing several near-accidents during trips to Springfield convinced him that "hands on the wheel and eyes on the road are the way to go." While he says the law won't eliminate distractions, he hopes it'll cut down on accidents.
Here's how the new law will work:
The new law bans drivers from using a mobile phone unless they use hands-free technology to conduct a conversation. A driver is allowed by law, however, to press a single button on a phone to begin or end a conversation.
The law permits exceptions on the ban during emergencies, or if a driver is parked on the shoulder. A driver also will be allowed to use a hand-held cellphone if a car is in neutral or in park, or if the car is stopped because normal traffic is obstructed.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 states along with the District of Columbia prohibit using hand-held cellphones while driving. A total of 41 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging.
For starters, turn off the cellphone. If that's not possible, there are a number of wireless technology solutions that allow electronic devices to connect remotely. Some newer cars have built-in systems that sync cellphones with car speakers. Owners of older vehicles can buy kits that integrate their phones and stereo systems. A driver also could use a headset, but state law mandates that it cover only one ear.
Violators will be fined $75 for a first offense, and as much as $150 for repeat offenses as well as having a moving violation on their driving record. Three moving violations within a year could lead to a driver's license being suspended.
A separate new law increases penalties for distracted drivers found to have caused crashes. Distracted drivers causing injuries face up to a year in prison, and up to $2,500 in fines. Drivers involved in fatal accidents face fines of up to $25,000 and three years in jail.
Mulroe, a former Cook County assistant state's attorney, said he pushed the law after being nearly sideswiped on Interstate 55 by a woman twirling her hair with one hand and talking on the phone with the other.
"She must have been driving with her knees," he said. The father of four said he began to think about the safety of his kids, whose "phones are attached to their hands and it's hard to keep conversations with them."
Evidence is mixed on whether the law will improve safety. The U.S. Department of Transportation says you're four times more likely to be injured in an accident if you're on a hand-held phone. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization funded by auto insurers, says it's not clear if there's a difference between having the phone to your ear and using a hands-free device, after studying crash data in four states before and after cellphone bans.