SPRINGFIELD – Using a hand-held cellphone while driving soon will be illegal in Illinois.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Friday banning the use of cellphones held to the ear. Motorists will be able to use speakerphones or headsets that allow one-digit or voice-activated dialing.
The law takes effect Jan. 1.
The ban, which doesn't include emergencies, puts Illinois among 11 states and Washington, D.C., which also prohibit hand-held devices. Texting behind the wheel already is illegal in Illinois.
"We want drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel," Sen. John Mulroe, a sponsor of the bill and a Chicago Democrat, said in a prepared statement. "The phone call can wait."
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, drivers using hand-held devices are four times more likely to get in a crash involving injuries. Distracted driving caused 387,000 injuries and 3,000 fatalities in 2011, the agency said.
House sponsor Rep. John D'Amico, D-Chicago, said motorists using a phone are not giving their full attention to "the most important task they have."
Quinn also signed into law Friday a measure increasing the penalties for motorists whose accident was caused by using an electronic device. It also takes effect Jan. 1.
Such an accident causing great bodily harm can earn a driver up to a year in prison, three years if death results. Current law only allows charging violators with traffic violations.
The initiative was sponsored by Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat, and Joliet Democratic Rep. Natalie Manley.
Quinn has been a strong supporter of measures to improve traffic safety and has promoted the fact that during his first year in office, in 2009, Illinois highway deaths dropped to fewer than 1,000 for the first time since 1921. They've stayed below that number each year since.
The hand-held phone bill is HB1247. The enhanced penalties bill is HB2585