Glendale drivers will now have a fine to pay if they are involved in traffic accidents as a result of gabbing on their cell phones.
The Milwaukee-area city passed an ordinance last week that allows police to ticket drivers $96.40 if they are using their cell phones at the time of an accident or while being stopped for another traffic violation.
"[My husband] saw an accident where both drivers were on the cell phone, and within two miles of that — the same morning — he saw a near-miss of an accident when someone was on the phone," said Cindy McManus, a member of the Glendale Common Council.
The ordinance amends Glendale's previous ordinance on inattentive driving. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., have all banned the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. In 2005, Chicago passed an ordinance prohibiting drivers from talking on their cell phones unless they use headsets or speakerphone settings.
Eight other states have banned school bus drivers from using cell phones.
Despite McManus' observations while driving, not everyone is entirely convinced cell phones cause a majority of accidents.
"It's one factor that gets people in accidents, but it's not the overriding cause," said Mike Hanson, public information officer for the Madison Police Department.
Hanson said that most accidents he sees are caused by driving too closely behind other vehicles or from general inattentiveness.
Hanson said no ordinance like this is currently proposed for Madison.
Some people are also concerned police will not be able to prove someone was in an accident as a result of talking on a cell phone, arguing that issuing someone a ticket implies the accident or moving violation was directly caused by talking on the cell phone.
"To say that you got in the accident because you were talking on the phone, that's going to be hard to prove," said Donald Downs, a University of Wisconsin political science and law professor. "You can [prove it], but it's a lot more difficult than simply saying, 'You got in an accident, we saw you talking on your cell phone, therefore we are going to double the fine of your ticket.'"
Downs added that it would be difficult to prove the driver was not instead distracted by other factors, such as the car radio or passengers, or affected by icy conditions or speeding.
However, McManus said she hopes the ordinance will be adopted outside Glendale.
"Since we've taken this first step, I'm hoping other communities will follow suit," she said. "I would love to see it done statewide, but I think we're kind of far from that."