Local News

NC Supreme Court hangs up on Chapel Hill cell phone ban

Posted June 12, 2014

— The North Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday struck down Chapel Hill's law banning cellphone use while driving and also curtailed an ordinance regulating towing in the town.

The unanimous decision is the latest twist in the on-again, off-again ordinances, which the Chapel Hill Town Council adopted in early 2012. Neither ordinance has ever gone into effect because of legal challenges.

"The Supreme Court was very clear, the State of North Carolina's interest in regulating texting and cell phone use in vehicles pre-empts our ability to do it here in Chapel Hill," Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson issued an injunction against them in August 2012, but the state Court of Appeals reversed that a year ago. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate decision and sent the ordinances back down the chain for further review.

George King, who runs a towing business in Chapel Hill, sued the town over both laws. He said he couldn't obey the towing rules, which require that a tower notify police within 15 minutes of a tow without breaking the cellphone ordinance banning the use of cellphones while driving.

The Supreme Court said that "municipalities are preempted by state law from regulating a driver’s use of a mobile phone," noting state lawmakers have already placed some limits on the use of cell phones while driving.

Some residents do not want the town to give up on the issue.

“I have got my kids here and I can tell you when they see somebody who is in their phone, while they are driving, it makes them very nervous,” Meriwynn Mansori said.

The court also said that Chapel Hill was within its rights to enact rules regarding towing, but justices ruled that regulations setting caps on the fees towing companies could charge and preventing them from passing along any credit card fees were beyond the town's authority. Those two provisions of the towing ordinance were struck down, but other elements, such as requiring that tow zones be properly marked, that wrecker drivers inform police before towing any vehicle and that impound lots be located within 15 miles of town, remain intact.

“Hopefully our ability to require signage, and notice to people, that they don't park here if you don't want your car towed, if we can get that message out, we can keep people from having that experience,” Kleinschmidt said.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jun 13, 2014

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    If you think a single city law is "socialist", what do you think about Big Laws?...laws at a State's Constitutional level?...that are created by one group of people, to deny equal freedom & liberty of another, while they, themselves, are unaffected?...in all of NC?

    See my comment above (to by I-Defy) about your mentally-inconsistent* name calling.

    *(how's that for being nice?) :-)

  • mike275132 Jun 13, 2014

    The Soviet Socialist Republic of Chapel Hill loses again....

  • 68_dodge_polara Jun 13, 2014

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    Ah good I can still drive through Chapel Hill with a nuke in the trunk but can't open carry a handgun of less than 6 inches in size, which isn't posted at every entrance to the town of Chapel Hill. Funny place.

  • Andy Hairston Jun 13, 2014
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    Actually, that statute doesn't say anything about carrying a nuclear weapon through town; just storing one.

    Unlike nuclear weapons, cellphones are extremely common, and the state and national laws don't say anything about use while driving. So I should be liable for driving along a state highway, talking on a cellphone, if I happen to do it while passing through Chapel Hill, even if they don't post it? (I don't actually talk and drive.) The ruling says it is up to the STATE to make driving rules, and that the city cannot add to them.

  • David McIntee Jun 13, 2014
    user avatar

    As much as I deplore too much government intervention, I do think NC should consider a handheld ban. I see many folks making one handed turns with the use of a turn signal. That said, The chapel hill law had many flaws, not the least of which was it selective application.

  • 68_dodge_polara Jun 13, 2014

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    Ignorance of a law isn't an excuse and they also don't have to post either.
    It's against the law to carry a nuclear weapon in to Chapel Hill but they don't have it posted at every entrance.

    The area encompassing the corporate limits of the Town of Chapel Hill is hereby declared and established as a nuclear weapons free zone to the effect that:
    (1) No nuclear weapon shall be stored within the town limits; and
    (2) No radioactive waste from the production of nuclear weapons shall be stored within the town limits.
    (Ord. No. 87-9-28/O-1, § 1)

  • SusanandAaron Tambot-Blankenship Jun 13, 2014
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    No, ignorance of the law is nto a valid excuse. It is your responsibility to inform yourself of the laws and not the burden of the state or city to inform you of the laws. You have a high level of entitlements to expect to be informed of everything.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jun 13, 2014

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    So, you're against using government to dictate personal behavior?

    And, do you really want to compare the freedom & liberty-taking laws created by each political party?

    Because there are *plenty* of very invasive laws that the GOP has created to control the lives *taxpaying citizens* by reducing their freedoms and liberties...including a Constitutional Amendment (!) to stop people from marrying who they love.

    But, it's a cellphone-while-driving law that makes your "big government" hair stand on end? Really?

  • 68_dodge_polara Jun 13, 2014

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    but that wouldn't be predatory towing.

  • Jump1 Jun 13, 2014

    he couldn't obey the towing rules, which require that a tower notify police within 15 minutes of a tow without breaking the cellphone ordinance banning the use of cellphones while driving.
    He could he just did not want to do so, Before he pulled and DROVE away he could call. That easy.