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Government State

Cellphones go hands-free Jan. 1

Police to use discretion enforcing new law banning drivers from using devices

DeKALB – Local police officials said officers will use their discretion as to whether to ticket someone talking on the phone while driving.

A new law that forbids drivers statewide to use their cellphones while driving will go into effect Jan. 1. Hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth devices or headsets, will remain legal.

According to the legislation, those who violate the measure will face a maximum fine of $75 for the first offense, $100 for the second, $125 for the third and $150 for a fourth or
subsequent offense.

If people are plainly violating the law, they will be ticketed, DeKalb police Cmdr.áJohn Petragallo said.

“When we’re at intersections or driving through town, if we see visible evidence of somebody breaking the law, we’ll stop them and cite them,” Petragallo said.

Texting while driving already is against the law, and officers will treat the new law the same as the texting law, he said.

Gary Dumdie, DeKalb Sheriff’s chief deputy, said his department has decided to make the law applicable to his work force as well.

Although the law explicitly allows law enforcement to use cellphones while driving when they are on duty, Sheriff’s deputies will be allowed to use their uniform allowance to purchase a hands-free device, Dumdie said.

“We feel it’s important for our officers to abide by the same law citizens have to,” he said.

A lot of Sheriff’s deputies are already using hands-free devices, Dumdie said.

Officers said driving while on the phone is dangerous and contributes to accidents. According to the National Safety Council, an estimated 24 percent of all traffic crashes – about 1.2 million a year – are linked to motorists texting or talking on cellphones.

“Officers that handle accidents oftentimes find the use of a phone as one of the causes, maybe not the primary cause, but one factor of the cause of an accident,” Petragallo said.

Drivers will only be allowed to use cellphones if they are calling for emergency assistance, such as dialing 911, Dumdie said. Other emergencies, such as those involving the family, do not count, Dumdie said.

The law allows motorists parked on the shoulder of a roadway to use their cellphones.

Dumdie said motorists will be warned when the law first goes into effect but that they will treat it like any other law as time goes by.

It is up to the officer’s discretion whether to issue a ticket for the first offense when the law goes into effect, Petragallo said.

“All these laws are meant to keep the driver’s attention on the road and on their surroundings,” Petragallo said. “You, the occupants in the vehicle and those around you will be safer for it.”

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