Public shows support for proposed Chapel Hill cellphone ban
Posted February 20, 2012
Updated February 21, 2012
Chapel Hill, N.C. — A handful of people turned out Monday in Chapel Hill to show support for a ban on all cellphone use behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
Karen Turner, of Asheville, traveled to Chapel Hill to share a story she says proves the need for a complete ban on cellphones in the driver's seat.
In August 2010, Turner said, her younger brother Joel was in a wreck caused by a driver using a cellphone.
"Joel was pronounced dead on the scene," she said. "Pass the ban, so that no other family has to suffer."
The town council is set to vote on the proposal, which would even ban hands-free devices, on March 12.
If the proposal passes, it would be the first of its kind in North Carolina. State law prohibits drivers age 18 and under from using cellphones and also makes texting while driving illegal when a car is in motion.
Some council members expressed concern about whether such a ban is legal.
An assistant attorney general sent a letter to the council saying it doesn't have the authority to pass a town ban on cellphones.
"We (would be passing) a law that, we've been told by the Attorney General, we don't have the authority to enact," said Councilman Matt Czajkowski.
A town attorney said the attorney general's decision was premature. He acknowledged that the ban could be challenged in court, but said the attorney general's office didn't have all the details of the proposal before they said it was unlawful.
Councilman Gene Pease said he wasn't sure hands-free devices should be included and had questions about how it would be enforced.
Councilman Jim Ward said passing the ban was "the right thing to do."
Ten states and the District of Columbia have bans on using hand-held cellphones while driving. Chapel Hill's proposal makes cellphone use behind the wheel a secondary offense, meaning an officer must first stop a vehicle for another reason before issuing a citation for violating the ban.