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Cell Phone Ban Fines Increase This Weekend

By Prescott Carlson in News on Feb 16, 2009 10:00PM

cellphoneban.jpg Chicago continues on with its business model of raising fines to raise revenue, this time targeting Alderman Tom Tunney's favorite law, the city's cell phone ban. Effective Saturday, February 21, the price of a ticket increases $25 to $100, and if you cause an accident because of your jibber jabber on the phone you'll be coughing up $500. But will the fine increase do anything to get people to put down the cell and put both hands on the wheel? Traffic Committee Chairman Pat O'Connor seems to think so:

It really is a requirement that we [raise the fines to] get people's attention," said [O'Connor]. "Just like these [red-light] cameras and the $100 fine gets people's attention when they're going through those intersections, people who begin to get these types of fines will drastically reduce the use of cell phones. ...That's something that they look at when they're writing checks with ... two zero's."

O'Connor is missing the point of his comparison. First, the difference with the red light cameras is that drivers thinking about blowing through a red light know they're going to get caught by the camera and receive a ticket in the mail, while, like speeding, using your phone while driving is rolling the dice. And a gamble you're likely to win, as the city only issues an average of 700 cell phone citations per month. So it's not about the amount of the fine, it's about increasing enforcement of the law. If a driver knows they're more likely to get pulled over, they will think twice before dialing -- that's the stage to discourage bad behavior, not at the point people are "writing checks." Sun-Times transportation reporter Mary Wisniewski doesn't think this is even enough and wants to try a different tactic -- public shaming:

Laws alone aren't going to stop cell phone use while driving. There has to be something else -- a sense of social shame. There has to be a tipping point -- to go from thinking it's OK to drive while on the phone to thinking it's akin to breaking wind in public.

We think we'll leave the screaming at cars driving down the street to Ms. Wisniewski and just hope the law enforcement personnel we pay our taxes for will start writing more tickets.

Image by Mike Kline