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Judge temporarily halts Chapel Hill cellphone ban

Posted May 2, 2012

— A Superior Court judge on Wednesday issued a temporary restraining order blocking a Chapel Hill ordinance that prohibits all cellphone use while driving.

The Chapel Hill Town Council passed the measure in a 5-4 vote in March, making the use of both hands-free and handheld devices a secondary offense and requiring violators to pay a $25 fine.

It was set to take effect June 1 but has been put on hold until after a hearing on Monday in response to a lawsuit against the town about the ban. The lawsuit also challenges a town towing ordinance regulating how much tow truck operators can charge and where and when vehicles can be towed.

"It attempts to regulate a trade or business, but it applies only to limited counties and cities, and that makes it a local bill," said Thomas Stark, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of George's Towing and Recovery.

Stark said that only state law can regulate trade or commerce.

"The ordinance they passed, requires (my client) to call in before he leaves the lot before the tow and to always answer the phone if anybody calls him," Stark said. "So, he's driving down the road, and a guy comes out and finds his car towed, makes a call – (my client) has to answer that call.

Lawsuit stops Chapel Hill cellphone ban for now Lawsuit stops Chapel Hill cellphone ban for now

Town leaders approved the policy, the first of its kind by a community in the state, despite a warning from the state Attorney General's Office that it did not have the authority to pass a town cellphone ban.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt declined to comment on the lawsuit since it is a pending legal matter. Members of the Town Council could not be reached for comment.

Under the ordinance, a law enforcement officer would have to stop a driver for another reason before issuing a citation for violating the ban.

North Carolina drivers are prohibited from sending text messages while driving, but there is no state law banning cellphone use, except for drivers under age 18.

Momentum has been building in the General Assembly for legislation that would require a hands-free device for all drivers using cellphones while a vehicle is moving.


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  • cass122 May 7, 2012

    joeblink~ It is very easy to prove that someone is busy on their cell phone...especially when you are behind them on the highway and they are doing 55. I always know that someone is distracted and it is usually from them being on the cell. So, I pass them, take a picture of them texting or talkin on the cell, (which they really hate!) And than a minute later they are passing me and the cell phone is no longer in use...they may actually be not distracted and may even pay attention!

  • cass122 May 7, 2012

    Why is this ban only happening in Chapel Hill!? It should be happening everywhere! How many people need to get hurt or even killed before a full ban on cell phone use while driving everywhere happens!? Why does it have to take for people to be injured or killed before these laws go into affect!? It only makes sense, but people don't have even 'common sense'. ~donkeypendergraph~ You are right! Ignorance truly is bliss!

  • joeblink May 4, 2012

    I still don't see how anyone can ever prove someone was talking on a hands-free phone and not just talking to themselves or singing along w the radio? Maybe Chapel Hill should ban radios and CD players in all vehicles. Merely making something illegal doesn't stop the behavior! How many folks adhere literally to the posted speed limit all the time? The state legislature could instead up the fines for causing a crash whether it was due to excessive speed, cell phone, yelling at your kids, etc. to $2000. Might slow some folks down and get some to 'shut up and drive' and to do so with due diligence.

  • djofraleigh May 3, 2012

    How many accidents, injuries and deaths will happen because of this order?

  • donkeypendergraph May 3, 2012

    Shut up and drive! Should be a law everywhere! its a fact. As a motorcyclist i have to watch out for these looney tunes everyday. they have no idea how bad thier driving really is! ignorance is bliss

  • Spidey May 3, 2012

    I think that is the funniest thing I've read all week:)

  • Lamborghini Mercy May 3, 2012

    Glad to see someone has a sense of sound judgement.

  • Rebelyell55 May 3, 2012

    For the citizen I'm hoping the law suit is throwed out. Time to stop the preditor.

  • cwood3 May 3, 2012

    If you are going to ban cell phones, ban carrying children, drinking coffee, eating, changing radio stations or CDs,...

    All are responsible for distracting drivers.

  • whatelseisnew May 3, 2012

    Hopefully people will start bringing wrongful death suits against these cell phone talkers.