Effort to ban cell phone use while driving fails

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Cell phone users who talk while they drive are free to do so with impunity in the City of Niles.
An ordinance which would have outlawed talking on hand-held cell phones while driving in Niles was defeated by a five-to-two vote by the city council on Tuesday night.
Niles Mayor Mike McCauslin spoke out against the measure, which before Tuesday's meeting seemed a slam dunk.
The ordinance was proposed by Niles City Councilmember Robert Chute, who represents the city's third ward. Chute was a 23 year Michigan State trooper before retiring.
Chute, who now works in South Bend, Ind., said he drives 22 miles a day and at least two or three times a week is required to take evasive action to avoid a collision with someone talking on a cell phone.
However, McCauslin said some studies have shown it's not holding a cell phone but being engaged in a conversation on the phone that takes a driver's thought process away from driving.
Before the ordinance was introduced Tuesday night for its second reading and enactment, First Ward Councilmember Patricia Gallagher tried unsuccessfully to have the motion tabled. She said the ordinance, as written, is flawed.
Fourth Ward Councilmember Bruce Williams agreed and supported Gallagher's motion to table it.
Williams said, despite some television media reports recently about the ordinance, he wanted all to be aware that as written, it was a primary ordinance, not a secondary one. That means officers could pull drivers over and ticket them if they saw them talking on phones while driving.
Second Ward Councilmember Dan Vanden Heede, who teaches high school sociology in Dowagiac, said the issue is a "classic social dilemma of individual rights versus the common good. Sometimes you have to infringe on individual rights for the common good."
Vanden Heede argued the ordinance is meant as simply a tool for use by police officers here and that police officers would not target out of state drivers or others simply for talking on cell phones.
However, Gallagher pointed out as the ordinance is written, "no where in there does it say the issue is at the officers' discretion."
Councilmembers Gallagher, Georgia Boggs, Robert Durm, Bill Weimer and Williams successfully voted against the ordinance.
Councilmembers Vanden Heede and Chute voted in favor of it.
The Fourth Ward's Scott Clark was absent from Tuesday's meeting because of an illness.

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