Hands-Free Driving. Not only is this scofflaw holding a cell phone, he is also about to break another driving taboo by sneezing. Under the sneeze-free-driving ordinance, such nasal eruptions while driving will be banned. Those who would drive in Evanston are admonished to get flu shots early and often.

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April Fool from the RoundTable.

According to the National Respiratory Responsibility Association (NRRA), the average sneeze renders a sneezer functionally incapacitated for up to 1.8 seconds. Such incapacity has catastrophic effects on the highways and byways of America, including right here in Evanston. But, at least in Evanston, no more.

Evanston City Council outlawed sneezing while driving in an ordinance passed Monday night, April 1. The measure, part of an ongoing campaign against distracted driving in Evanston, will save the lives of an estimated 25 drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists per year according to studies presented by a representative of the NRRA during citizen comment.

Distracted driving has long been a problem in Evanston, say several aldermen, as evidenced by the cell phone ban and higher fines for speeding in school zones, both passed earlier this year. The anti-sneezing ordinance places sneezing on a growing list of activities banned while driving in Evanston that includes eating, changing radio stations, waving to friends (including pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers or passengers), retrieving fallen toys dropped by toddlers and the aforementioned talking on a cell phone.

Pedestrian safety organizations hailed the measure. Samantha Walker, president of Keeping Walkers First, said, “The anti-sneezing ordinance fills an important public safety gap, and puts Evanston at the forefront of sidewalk safety in the nation. This law will lead to the immediate cessation of the violent nasal reaction that so often leads to tragedy.” Dr. Heinrick Aroman, a leading expert on the psychology of respiratory actions, agreed, saying, “The fact that a law exists has such a powerful impact on the human psyche that, I expect, the behavior sought to be changed will simply cease to transpire. The key is to get the word out, especially to visiting motorists.”

Several representatives of area bicycling safety organizations, however, felt that the measure did not go far enough. “What about hiccups? Or any sharp intake of breath, for that matter?” asked an obviously distressed Sal Wheelright, president of the area chapter of the American Bikers Campaign to End All Driving. He went on to attack drivers who blink or squint while behind the wheel, and laughing while driving. When asked whether bicyclists ever sneeze, Mr. Wheelright replied, “Sure. But in Evanston, cyclists mostly ride on the sidewalks, anyway.”

The American Liberty for its Sake Organization protested vehemently. In a prepared statement read with aplomb by the City Clerk, ALSO decried the measure as a further erosion of basic constitutional rights. “First, seat belts and corrective lenses, and a requirement that drivers wear clothes and use headlights at times of darkness, then cell phones and sneezing, what’s next?” the statement said.

The ordinance provides for a first-time fine of up to $100, depending on the circumstances of the nasal eruption. Should the sneeze occur while speeding in a school zone and talking on a cell phone, the driver faces life in prison without parole. “Some in the community called for execution,” admitted Ms. Walker. Mr. Wheelright admitted to being one of them.

City staff hastened to place new signs at all entrances to the City announcing, “Now Entering Evanston – a Sneeze-Free Motorists City” before the ordinance, quickly signed into law, takes effect April 1, 2010 – April Fool’s Day. “Until then,” said Ms. Walker, “drive, walk or ride on these dangerous streets with the utmost caution. There’s just nothing we can do, as citizens, to combat bus, truck, and taxi driver allergies until this additional tool is in the City’s toolbox.