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Illinois voters want drivers to hang up the cell phones

Motorist use their cell phones while driving EvanstTuesday March 6 2012. File Photo. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Motorist use their cell phones while driving in Evanston on Tuesday, March 6, 2012. File Photo. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 8, 2013 7:03AM

SPRINGFIELD — Illinoisans appear to be fed up with sharing the road with other motorists who drift in and out of their lanes or who remain sitting at green lights because they’re preoccupied with talking on their cell phones.

That seems to be the takeaway from a new survey of registered voters, who show overwhelming support for legislation now on Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk that would impose a statewide ban on using hand-held cell phones while driving.

Eighty-five percent of those polled favor the prohibition while just 12 percent oppose it, according to the survey performed by the Joliet-based polling firm, McKeon & Associates.

The company posed the question to 804 registered voters on June 25. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

“This is good news,” said state Rep. John D’Amico (D-Chicago), chief House sponsor of the legislation, which passed the House and Senate in late May.

“The public is just becoming more and more educated,” he said, when asked to explain the lopsided margin of support in the poll for his bill. “We’ve all see examples. We’ve all been driving down the road and see people driving erratically or driving 45 in a 55-mph zone. When you get up to them, it’s always the same thing: They’re talking on the phone.

“People realize how dangerous this is, and it’s something we need to change,” D’Amico said.

Under the legislation, which would take effect in January if Quinn signs it, first-time offenders would face a $75 fine and not be charged with a moving violation.

Fines would grow to $100 for a second offense, $125 for a third, and $150 after four or more offenses, and multiple offenses would be treated as moving violations, which could raise auto-insurance premiums.

The bill’s backers have included Verizon, the Illinois Trucking Association, Secretary of State Jesse White’s office and AAA Chicago Motor Club.

Chicago has had a ban on using handheld cell phones while driving since 2005. Close to 75 other municipalities across the state followed suit with their own prohibitions, creating a patchwork of regulations.

Support for D’Amico’s legislation stood at 72 percent in Chicago, 99 percent in suburban Cook County, 85 percent in the collar counties and between 78 and 92 percent in different parts of Downstate, according to McKeon’s poll.

Support also hovered in the mid-80-percent range based on gender and race.

McKeon said the consistent results showed those being surveyed viewed the issue as “far more as a safety issue than [about] personal freedoms.”

Quinn did not take a stance on the legislation as it wound its way through the General Assembly. A spokeswoman Friday would only say the matter is under review by the governor.

If Quinn were to veto the legislation, supporters would have to round up more votes to override him because the margins in both the House and Senate were not high enough to be considered veto-proof.

In May, the House passed the measure by a 69-48 margin, while the Senate voted 34-20 in support. To override a Quinn veto or amendatory veto, 71 votes are needed in the House and 36 in the Senate.

Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro), who voted against the plan in the House, contends there should be a general distracted driving offense put into the state’s vehicle code to cover everything from changing radio stations to dealing with unruly kids — not just talking on a cell phone.

Bost said he was surprised by how one-sided McKeon’s poll results were and wondered whether a not-in-my-backyard element was at play, where those being surveyed favored banning cell phone use for everyone else, just not themselves.

“In this case, I almost have to say, is it a case where people want to say, ‘Everybody else?’” he said. “Unless I’m really wrong, and I’m on the road a lot, everybody talks on their cell phones out there.

“You should find out how many of those people were driving in their cars and talking on their phones while taking this poll,” Bost quipped.

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