South Bend could expand cellphone ban for drivers

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Getting behind the wheel could require getting off the phone in South Bend, where the push is on to address the problem of distracted driving.

In 2009, financial troubles forced a reduction in the number of South Bend school crossing guards, which inspired the South Bend Common Council at that time to ban drivers from using handheld cellphones in school zones.

A proposed ordinance filed last week would extend the ban citywide.

“The council is trying to give the same protections they give children in a school crosswalk to every citizen driver in the city,” South Bend Common Council attorney Robert Palmer said. “Going back from the time they first passed this ordinance several years ago to now, there have been a lot of additional studies on distracted driving. The council thought this was a way to at least curb distracted driving elsewhere.”

The debate will soon begin, and there is no doubt where Randy Sherill stands.

“My son was just rear-ended recently, almost killed him," Sherill said. "[The] guy was looking at his phone. My son was stopped at a light. The guy clobbered him and totaled the truck, almost killed him, so you know where I'm at on this.”

Don Dumich was also excited to learn about the proposed ordinance.

“I think it's a tremendous idea, because like I said, told you before that I ride a motorcycle, and I've noticed a huge increase in the amount of risk driving a motorcycle. Noticing that the cars around me are all talking on the phone," he said. "They didn't notice the motorcycle very much before. Now, it's even worse.”

There would be exemptions to the ban for police, firefighters, medical workers and navigational devices.

Plus, the ban would not apply to hands-free technology, provided that technology could be activated or deactivated with the single touch of a single button.

“The ‘one button’ is if you get a call coming in on your cellphone and all you need to do is press one button to activate your cellphone, that's fine,” Palmer said.

Willian Nash seemed generally supportive of the proposed ordinance, although he wondered who would enforce the new rules, saying police officers were already busy.

“I guess it's worth trying to take a step, but it's an awful thing to ask our city councilmen to try and do rather than ourselves do it through just general awareness,” he said.

A first-time offense would carry a fine of $75, a second offense would be $125 and a third $250.

The ordinance to expand the ban on handheld devices is on track for a public hearing and possible final vote at the council meeting scheduled for Aug. 12.