- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois police departments say officers are using discretion about whether to cite drivers who are breaking the state’s new ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving.

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph reports law enforcement agencies appear to be giving drivers latitude if they’re caught violating the new law that took effect Jan. 1. The uniform ban supplements the state’s current ban on texting and replaces assorted local laws on cellphone use that vary from town to town.

In Chicago, a cellphone ban has been in place since 2006.

Motorists can talk and drive only if they use a hands-free device to conduct cellphone conversations.

“It’s at the officer’s discretion,” said Sara Mayer, public affairs officer for the Bloomington Police Department, which hasn’t issued any citations.

Meanwhile, Galesburg police tell The Register-Mail that they haven’t issued citations either, in large part because the department has been busy with winter weather.

“With hazardous weather, people tend to be a bit more cautious,” Lt. Russ Idle said. “Obviously, we’re to be dealing with more life-safety issues, both of which can have an effect on discretionary enforcement.”

Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said troopers are enforcing the law but can make the decision whether to issue a ticket or a warning.

Violators face fines starting at $75, and repeat offenses bring the possibility of a suspended license.

For their part, drivers say they’re grateful for the unofficial grace period.

Bloomington resident Vicky Billington said she forgot about the new law after getting a call on Tuesday while she was behind the wheel on U.S. 51, even though she’s been working to change the practice.

“I saw it was a friend of mine and instinctively picked it up without thinking I was breaking the law,” she said. “Old habits died hard.”

Brenda Robinson of Bloomington said she’ll continue to answer the phone.

“I’ve got parents who are sick and in the hospital and so if the phone rings, I’m going to answer it,” she said. “I don’t expect a cop to care about that, but that’s the way it is going to be for right now.”

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