EVANSTON — According to the National Safety Council, cellphone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. Nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving. One of out of every four car accidents in U.S. is caused by texting while driving, and it is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk. At any moment 660,000 drivers are using a cell phone while driving.
The above statistics, plus his own observations living on 6th Street in Evanston, brought resident Fred Zech to the city council for the second time for the same concern. Zech presented the only item on the work session agenda at last week’s city council meeting held on Tuesday, Aug. 24.
“There is a real problem on 6th Street with people using their cellphones while driving,” Zech told the council. “That street is particularly bad because the Youth Club is located there and the tennis courts and it is a main way that kids walk to school. More people are addicted to their phones than drugs.”
Zech mentioned that Rock Springs and Jackson Hole both have a cellphone ordinance and the police officers there can stop and ticket someone if they see them driving and using their cellphone. He said a Rock Springs officer is allowed to check their phones to prove if they were recently on it.
“Why can’t you pass a city ordinance to give the police department the ability to ticket people and try to stop this before someone in Evanston really gets hurt bad or killed?” Zech asked the council.
Evanston Police Chief Mike Vranish told the council that a cellphone ordinance is tough to enforce. He added that currently there is a watered-down statute for distracted driving that is tough to prove.
Mayor Kent Williams said, “I don’t disagree with you, but I really don’t know what to do. It would be hard to enforce, and I don’t think people would support it.”
Evanston City Attorney Dennis Boal said the council had tried to create such an ordinance several years ago and there wasn’t much support for it, but he would bring it back for the council to review.
“Most people here would say it is infringing on personal freedom and, in our society, this will be the argument. We will look into what we can do,” Williams said. “We sure want to encourage people to take personal responsibility and not use their phones while driving.”
Robert Davis, a friend of Zech’s, had accompanied him to the meeting. Davis addressed the council and said, “I think it is a community’s responsibility to support the law and police officers. We need to be there for them.”
Zech’s comments come weeks after a 2-year-old, one of Zech’s neighbors, was struck and killed by a pickup driving by at dusk, though there is no indication the driver was on his cellphone or distracted at the time.