New Illinois law extends Chicago hands-free cell phone driving rule statewide

January 1, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Among them is one that's already been on the books in Chicago and is now in effect across the state. It's now illegal for drivers to talk while holding a cell phone while driving.

As of Wednesday, if you're going to talk on the phone while driving, you've got to use a hands-free device, or have it on speaker, out of your hands.

"If I have that phone up to my ear and I'm talking and driving, I'm subject to a citation. That's correct, and you're gonna be pulled over for that," said David Byrd, Illinois State Police.

State police say they're going to start enforcing the new law immediately - no grace period - though officers do have discretionary power. And the law does have exceptions. Phone to driver's ear is allowable, for instance, in an emergency. And there are other caveats.

The temptation and for many the habit is that you pull up to a lighted intersection, the light goes red and you make or take a call, or check your emails. You can legally do that, but only if you put the car in neutral or park. Still, what all of us frequently see and many of us regularly do is now a fineable no-no.

"The first offense is $75 and it increases $25 after that," said Byrd.

Many Illinois towns and cities - Chicago included - already have hands-free laws, but the new state law turns cellphone talking while driving into a moving offense.

"So you get stopped three times in one year, you're gonna lose your license," said State Rep. John D'Amico, 15th District.

"We want 100-percent compliance right away," Byrd said.

That may be the goal, but the reality is, changing habits and some would argue necessary convenience, takes time, and enforcement. Texting while driving has been against the law in Illinois for the last four years, but it's not always easy for police to catch and prove. In part, because a motorist could claim that they were using the phone to punch up a number and just talk - not text. That claim, under the new law, no longer works.

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