Special Segment: Hang up & drive

June 29, 2009 8:53:16 PM PDT
Chicago's law forbidding cell phone use while driving is supposed to get people behind the wheel to hang up and drive. But breaking that law doesn't result in a ticket very often."I always see people driving and on the cell phone," said Steven Santucci.

In downtown Chicago, it's driver after driver on the phone behind the wheel.

"I think it's honestly ridiculous," said Bobby McClelland.

"I really don't think that they should be on the telephone," said Rose Cross.

Chicago banned driving while using a cell phone without a hands-free device in 2005. But drivers don't appear to be hanging up.

In 2006, Chicago police handed out just more than 13,000 tickets to drivers talking on the cell phone. That number went up to more than 17,000 in 2007. In 2008, it dropped to just more than 10,000 tickets. That means in 2008, of the estimated one 1.3 million drivers on the road in Chicago every day, Chicago police only ticketed an average of 28 of them per day for driving while talking on the phone.

"You want to look at these numbers and say, oh it's working, but that's not true, because I see people out here all the time driving with cell phones," said Alderman Freddrenna Lyle.

ABC7 took our findings to Alderman Freddrenna Lyle. She's on the city council committee that created the ban and says both drivers and the police need to take it seriously.

"Obviously there's some enforcement but it's not one of those high priorities," said Lyle. "But clearly, there's not a, a push to enforce it by the numbers that you've shown," said Lyle.

In May of 2008, the city changed the type of ticket drivers get when the only reason they're pulled over is driving while they're on the phone without any other infraction. But between the change and the end of the year -- nearly 75 percent of these new tickets -- were dismissed by the court.

"This is kind of surprising," said Lyle. "We want people to take it seriously, that's why we imposed it, it's not just trying to come up with stuff to irritate the citizen, we want people to be safe."

Court officials say they threw out many of the violations because officers just wrote "cell phone use" on the ticket without mentioning driving or if they were using a hands free device.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers on the phone are putting themselves and other drivers at risk. They say drivers on the phone are four times more likely to be in a crash.

"There's a great misunderstanding about how dangerous it is to talk on a cell phone while driving," said David Teater, transportation director, National Safety Council.

For Teater, the dangers of driving while on a cell phone hit home five years ago. His youngest son was killed in a crash with a driver who ran a red light while on a cell phone.

"A loss like that is inexplainable. You just can't, you can't share with people how it changes your life forever," said Teater.

Teater says he joined the national safety council earlier this year to help raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.

"There's a serious mental diminishing impact from having the cell phone conversation. When you add it all up, you just say, this is terribly dangerous," said Teater.

The city says after so many tickets were thrown out last year officers were retrained on how to write the new type of cell phone ticket. So far it looks like it's making them stick. Drivers have been found liable for nearly 89 percent of the 3,300 administrative tickets ruled on since the beginning of the year.


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