OMG: Go Hands-Free or Pay Up

Penalties could increase for motorists using handheld cell phones

Can't seem to put that cell phone down while driving?  You might want to think twice about that.

The penalty for driving while chatting or texting could soon be a better deterent.

A City Council committee unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday that would raise the fines for using a handheld cell phone while at the wheel.

Talking without a hands-free device while driving in Chicago could cost as much as $100, increased from the current $75.

If you're caught talking on a handheld phone "at the time of a traffic accident," you'll have to pay $500, instead of the current $200.

In 2005, Chicago became the nation's largest city to prohibit motorists from using cell phones without a hands-free device. Last fall, the City Council amended the ban to include texting and surfing the Internet while driving.

A vote from the full council is scheduled for Feb. 11. If approved, the new fines would take effect on the 21st.

Alderman Patrick O'Connor (40th), chairman of the council's Traffic Committee, hopes that police will step up their enforcement of the ordinance.

"When you drive down the street, every other person is on a cell phone. Half the time, you drive by squad cars and they're on cell phones," said O'Connor, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "It really is a requirement that we [raise the fines to] get people's attention."

Matt Bartosik, former blogger of The Chicago Traveler and editor of Off the Rocks' next issue, is a texting pro... but never while driving.

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