Parking Ticket 101: Fighting Cell Phone, Texting Tickets
Back in 2005, the Chicago City Council passed a controversial law prohibiting motorists from using a cell phone without a hands free device back.
It was one of the country’s earliest municipal bans on driving while using a cell phone without a hands free device and it was not without controversy. Some people embraced the move, while others felt it was just another strategy to generate more revenue for the city.
The law was changed in 2008 to take it from being adjudicated as a moving violation and making it essentially the equivalent of a parking ticket or red light camera violation.
Since 2005, tens of thousands of drivers in Chicago have been slapped with a $100 ticket for driving with a cell phone up to their ear.
But there are ways to avoid cell phone driving tickets as well as fighting them successfully when they’re issued improperly.
Avoiding Cell Phone Tickets
The most obvious way to avoid this violation is simply to use a hands free device while driving.
Inexpensive hands free devices go for $40 or even less in some cases. This is a relatively inexpensive investment in reducing or even eliminating the risk of a cell phone ticket.
But drivers should remember, most cell phones have speaker phone capabilities. Even without a headset, you can still talk hands free using the phone’s speaker function.
Another tip would be to pull over out of traffic if you need to take or make an important phone call.
Fighting The Ticket
As with all type of driving or parking tickets, not all are issued properly and in some cases drivers may want to contest this violation.
Perhaps the most important thing to know is that while only police can issue this type of violation, the ticket is not considered a moving violation. Because this cell phone cell violation is more like a parking ticket, the issuing police officer does not show up in court as they would do for a typical traffic violation.
This means, if you feel the ticket was issued improperly, you have a mild advantage in court. It ends up being your word against a written ticket–not a real, living, breathing Chicago police officer.
There are few defenses for this violation. The main one would be that you were in the act of making an emergency phone call to 9-1-1.
The key to beating a cell phone ticket is proving you were not making a phone call on your device at the time of the alleged violation.
Since cell phones these days have a myriad of other uses beyond its principal function as a phone, drivers could theoretically be utilizing their cell phone as a music player, radio or even to record voice memos, an activity which would have the driver speaking into the device. It is certainly a feasible defense that some drivers not engaged in making a phone call, would look like they’re on the phone while using the device for something else.
But perhaps the best way to prove you weren’t making a phone call is to bring in a copy of a cell phone bill with a detailed log of phone calls that shows there was no telephonic activity at the date and time of the violation.
The same is true for being accused of the highly dangerous act of sending a text message while operating a motor vehicle. A phone bill should also document the date and time of text messages. If messaging activity does not correspond to the time and date of the violation, the ticket should be dismissed.
Another defense for this violation would be that your vehicle was not moving and not in gear, which is allowed under the municipal code. Theoretically, if you were stopped at a traffic light and put your car in park, you could legally send a text message or even make a quick phone call. As long as you’re car isn’t in gear, this would be considered legal.
Payment As Defensive Strategy?
At the start of the year, the municipal code changed again. This time, the City Council changed the fine structure for the cell phone violation.
Previously, the fine was a flat $100. Now, the initial fine is still $100 if you decide to plead guilty and just pay. However, if you decide to contest it, if you’re found guilty, the court tacks on an additional $40 court fee. In addition, if the hearing officer sees repeated instances of a driver being ticketed for this offense, a scofflaw driver could face up to as much as a $500 fine if they opt to contest.
The point being is, if you already have a cell phone or texting violation on your record, unless you’re supremely confident in winning the day, it might make sense to avoid a hearing and just pay the $100 fine to avoid potentially higher fines.
Overall, the best strategy for driving more safely and avoiding expensive tickets is to invest in a reliable hands free device for your cell phone and to avoid texting while driving.