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Editorial: Driving while phoning not ‘essential freedom’

FILE- In this Wednesday Dec. 14 2011 file phodriver uses an iPhone while driving Wednesday Los Angeles. The countryís four

FILE- In this Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011, file photo, a driver uses an iPhone while driving Wednesday, in Los Angeles. The countryís four biggest cellphone companies are set to launch their first joint advertising campaign against texting while driving, uniting behind AT&Tís ìIt Can Waitî slogan to blanket TV and radio during the summer of 2013. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File) ORG XMIT: NYBZ111

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Updated: June 29, 2013 6:09AM

Driving is a privilege, not a right. Driving while talking on a cellphone, hand-held or hands-free, is plain dangerous.

A bill passed by the Illinois Senate on Thursday that would ban drivers from using hand-held cellphones is a smart one, then, and please don’t listen to Sen. Matt Murphy on this score because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Murphy, a Republican from Palatine, railed against the bill, saying it is “one more step toward us losing essential freedoms.”

Oh, please. The right to talk on a cellphone while driving is no more an “essential freedom” than the right to watch a TV on the dashboard while driving.

And Murphy said this:

“I don’t know frankly [if] I’m any more distracted with the hands-free, with the phone to my ear, than I am when I have a person in the passenger seat, and I’m having a lively conversation. . . .”

Well, we do know: He is more distracted. We all are.

A growing body of evidence argues that cellphones have no place on the road. In Evanston, where a ban on hand-held phones has been in place for several years, crashes are down 17 percent. In California, where such a ban has been in place for five years, traffic deaths are down 22 percent.

In 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all states ban even hands-free cellphone use by motorists. We share that view, though we know it won’t happen anytime soon. The state Senate bill moves in the right direction.

Various studies show that cellphone conversation significantly reduces our awareness while we drive. It’s not like chatting with another adult in the car, who can be a co-pilot of sorts, pointing out signs and pedestrians, and pausing the conversation when the driving gets tight.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia now ban drivers from using hand-held cellphones. Germany, Portugal, Japan and Israel ban the use of even hands-free phones.

We see a trend, and it’s a sensible one.

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