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Urbana City Council Considers Cell Phone Ban While Driving

Urbana Alderman Charlie Smyth introduced an ordinance last night — to a packed council chamber — that would ban cell phone usage while driving in Urbana.

After much discussion and public input, the council opted to further the conversation and allow City Attorney Ronald O’Neal to draft a new ordinance reflecting questions raised at last night’s meeting.

Smyth’s proposal included most mobile electronic devices, including hands-free sets such as Bluetooth devices. Council members voiced concerns over banning two-way cell phone devices for businesses such as towing services: how the ordinance would be enforced and how to educate the public about the ban.

Alderwoman Danielle Chynoweth discussed the possibility of a partial ban, allowing drivers to utilize hands-free technology. Alderwoman Lynne Barnes also considered a “quick win” that would be a device ban, but not a hands-free ban for the city.

Cognitive research shows that hands-free bans aren’t as affective because, according to Smyth, there is no difference between using a hands-free set or a hand held device.

“Chicago, which has a hands-free exception, part of that — I think — is a practical matter,” O’Neal says.

If a driver has a hand-set up to their ear and someone sees them, that’s much easier to prove then trying to prosecute someone who is talking with a hands-free device, O’Neal says.

Smyth noted that he thinks the ordinance could be enforced in the same way DUIs and seatbelt tickets are administered.

“There’s an education factor here in changing the way people think about it,” Mayor Laurel Prussing says. “I think there would be a reduction in the problem even though it wouldn’t be 100 percent.”

The ordinance will be revisited at the next committee of the whole meeting on April 14.

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