Chapel Hill, N.C. — A ban on all cellphones behind the wheel, including the use of hands-free mobile devices by drivers, was passed by Chapel Hill Town Council in a 5-4 vote Monday.
The ban, which is the first of its kind in North Carolina, is scheduled to go into effect June 1. It applies to any moving vehicle within the town limits.
Supporters of the ban say it is a groundbreaking crackdown on distracted driving, one of the leading causes of car wrecks, but opponents argue that such legislation should be made at the state level.
Questions have also been raised about whether a municipality has the authority to enact such a ban. A state assistant attorney general sent a letter in February saying that towns don't have the authority to pass a cellphone ban.
Many have argued that hands-free devices, including Bluetooth technology, should be allowed.
"If you have a new car, relatively new car, with a dashboard that has all the connections that allow you to talk wirelessly, you can't use it," said council member Laurin Easthom.
Council member Donna Bell said the ordinance could be an important first step toward a statewide cellphone ban.
"I wish it was coming from the state, but it doesn't seem like the state is going to do it at this point, and if they take on the example of little Chapel Hill, I'll be perfectly happy with that," Bell said.
The new ordinance 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.
"This isn't really banning talking on a cellphone. It's banning talking on a cellphone if you've done something noticeably bad when you're driving," said council member Ed Harrison.
Violators of the ban will face a $25 fine. The town plans to educate drivers about the law, including posting signs at the town limits.
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. Ten states and the District of Columbia have bans on using hand-held cellphones while driving.