CHICAGO — Verizon Wireless announced today that it would support "hands-free" legislation at the state level in Illinois as an answer to the City of Chicago's proposed hands-free ordinance.
In a prepared statement released today for the Chicago City Council Committee on Traffic Control and Public Safety, Annette M. Jacobs, president - Great Lakes Area of Verizon Wireless, unveiled her company's plan to promote driver safety for its customers and testified that a "piecemeal" approach to legislating hands-free driver safety initiatives at the local level is not the answer.
Jacobs contended that Alderman Natarus' proposed ordinance is flawed because State of Illinois law prohibits the use of headsets, including "earbuds," which is a central component of the proposed ordinance.
"We applaud the City Council and Mayor Daley for pursuing legislation that is designed to protect Chicago's citizens," said Jacobs. "However, should the City Council of Chicago proceed to enact a law governing driver safety at the municipal level, the end result would be confusion. Wireless phone users would be subject to the conflicting laws of the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago and its surrounding municipalities."
Jacobs unveiled Verizon Wireless' "Driver Safety Action Plan" that emphasizes the company's commitment to ensure safe driving practices by their customers. This plan includes:
- Offering affordable hands-free devices at dramatically reduced prices across the company;
- Incorporating our driver safety message in our advertising;
- Prominently displaying our safety message and reduced headset offer in stores and marketing materials;
- Training our sales and customer care teams about the importance of promoting hands-free devices;
- Requiring our handset vendors to provide only phones with hands-free capabilities;
- Supporting legislation at the state level to require the use of hands-free devices while driving.
"We are the pro-driver safety leader in the industry through our efforts to promote the use of hands-free devices in our marketing, sales, public relations, and public policy initiatives," said Jacobs. "As the industry leader, we feel that it is our responsibility to actively promote any initiatives that protect our customers."
In supporting a statewide requirement for drivers to use hands-free devices, Verizon Wireless is urging the Illinois State legislature to incorporate the following conditions in its legislation:
- The legislation must recognize the safety value of wireless devices;
- The legislation must explicitly exempt emergency calls;
- The legislation must ensure complete uniformity across the state;
- The legislation must repeal the earbud prohibition;
- The legislation must assess penalties equivalent to careless driving;
- Similar to the seat-belt law, this hands-free legislation must have a three-year "phase-in" period. This phase-in period would allow consumers to cycle out of contracts and then upgrade their handsets to ensure hands-free capability. Also, those consumers who cannot afford to upgrade their non-compatible phone would have ample time to budget for a handset upgrade. In addition, handset manufacturers need additional time to make hands-free capability more widely available at a lower price.
"Our 'Driver Safety' proposal would achieve Alderman Natarus' objective of requiring the use of hands-free devices statewide," Jacobs said. "Furthermore, it would eliminate the confusion that would result if municipalities adopted ordinances regulating driver safety in piecemeal fashion."
Verizon Wireless plans to aggressively pursue hands-free legislation - coupled with a repeal of the headset prohibition - in Springfield this fall.
About Verizon Wireless
Verizon Wireless is the largest wireless communications provider in the U.S. with more than 25 million wireless voice and data customers and nearly 4 million paging customers. The new coast-to-coast wireless provider was formed by the combination of the U.S. wireless businesses of Bell Atlantic Corp. and GTE Corp. - now Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) - and Vodafone (LSE:VOD; NYSE:VOD). The new company includes the assets of Bell Atlantic Mobile, AirTouch Cellular, GTE Wireless, PrimeCo Personal Communications and AirTouch Paging. The new company has a footprint covering nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population, 49 of the top 50 and 96 of the top 100 U.S. markets. Verizon Wireless, headquartered in New York City and Bedminster, NJ, is 30,000 employees strong. Reporters and editors can find more information about the company in its Media Center on the Web at: www.verizonwireless.com/mediacenter.