Campus Police have ticketed two drivers since new laws governing cell phone use went into effect at the start of 2010.
Both drivers were ticketed at the intersection of Bradley Avenue and Underhill Street near St. Mark Catholic School for drivers talking on cell phones while in a school zone.
In both incidents, university police reports noted that drivers were unaware or forgot about the ban on cell phone use in a school zone.
No drivers have been ticketed for text messaging while driving, University Police Chief Dave Baer said. The lack of tickets could be for a few reasons, but Baer said it’s mainly because it is difficult for an officer to know a driver is texting.
“There’s a hesitancy to make a strong statement against a person using a phone,” he said.
The texting ban includes all “electronic messages,” including e-mail and instant messaging on cell phones. Writing, sending and reading electronic messages while driving is prohibited unless the driver pulls over and stops the car or puts the car in neutral or park.
A similar law makes it illegal to use a cell phone while driving in a school or construction zone. This law is slightly easier for university police to uphold, since it is more obvious when a person talks on a phone rather than texts. But trying to patrol texting while driving presents challenges.
“If the suspicion is there, they could [pull you over],” Baer said. “But I don’t know if it stands up.”
An officer could ask to see the driver’s cell phone as evidence if the officer has probable cause that the driver was texting, but the driver could refuse to turn over his or her phone. Furthermore, the phone couldn’t be taken as evidence unless the officer actually saw the driver using the phone.
“I would hope no officer would just take a wild guess [at whether or not a driver was texting],” Baer said.
Using a Bluetooth or similar hands-free device in a school or construction zone is allowed under the law, but there is no distinction between what constitutes a “school” in the law’s actual text. It states no wireless device of any kind can be used in a school speed zone.
“A school speed zone, defined by the Vehicle Code, is a nursery school, primary school or secondary school,” said Michele Miller, librarian at the Peoria County Law Library. “It does not mention colleges or universities.”
And the law specifically states wireless devices in school speed zones are prohibited only on the roadway – not parking lots, driveways near schools, or related areas, Miller said.
But the law does state cell phones may not be used in school or construction speed zones at any time, regardless of whether or not school is in session.
Baer said it was important for students to know the details of the laws, since two primary schools are within blocks from campus.