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Judge blocks Chapel Hill cellphone ban, towing rules

Posted August 2, 2012

— A Superior Court judge on Thursday invalidated Chapel Hill ordinances that prevent the use of a cellphone while driving and that regulate towing companies.

Chapel Hill in March became the first municipality in North Carolina to ban use of cellphones, including hands-free devices, for all drivers. The ordinance was to take effect June 1, but Judge Orlando Hudson issued a temporary restraining order in May to prevent the town from enforcing it.

In a brief court hearing Thursday morning, Hudson made his temporary order a permanent injunction, ruling that state laws governing the use of cellphones in cars supersede the town's ordinance.

The judge also issued a permanent injunction against towing regulations that the Chapel Hill Town Council adopted in February. He said the regulations violated the state constitution.

The rules, which came in response to concerns about predatory towing, set fees towing companies could charge, required them to accept credit card or debit card payments and required them to inform Chapel Hill police before towing any vehicle. Also, impound lots couldn't be located more than 15 miles from town.

George's Towing & Recovery challenged the ordinances, arguing that their drivers needed to use cellphones on the road and that the requirement to inform police before towing a vehicle conflicted with the phone ban.

Tom Stark, the attorney for the towing company, said Hudson's ruling "is really, in most respects, a straightforward case."

Cellphone while driving Chapel Hill unsure on appeal after cellphone ban overturned

Local drivers had mixed opinions on the cellphone ban being overturned.

"I think it's probably safer for people not to be driving with their cell phones. I don't necessarily know whether or not it needs to be regulated," Alex Ahearn said.

"I think they do have the power to enforce it. They can enforce that just like they can enforce not buckling your seat belt or not texting while driving," Lucian Crockett said. "But it's also a gray area. What if they say you can't eat while you drive?"

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Chapel Hill officials will have to review the written ruling before deciding what to do next. The town could appeal the decision or possibly rewrite the ordinances to address the judge's concerns, he said.

The mayor said he was more concerned about the impact on the towing ordinance.

"We are disappointed," Kleinschmidt said in a statement. "Towns and cities across North Carolina have been reasonably regulating towing companies for a long time. ... We will continue to find ways to protect our citizens and visitors from predatory towing practices that have resulted in multiple complaints."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Roy G Biv Aug 3, 2012

    This judge is an idio-. Cell phones cause many, many accidents

    HAHAHAHA!! That is a good one. Sounds like we need a NCPA, National Cell Phone Association. Amendment 2A, the right to bear phones.

  • fitteryou Aug 3, 2012

    NC needs to get off its high horse. Both actions kill, and are worse than driving with no seat belts. Follow the common sense of NJ and NY and ban them both. NC already has one of the worst accident rates in the states.

  • readme Aug 3, 2012

    Good for this. Chapel Hill needs to get off it's high horse. There's a difference between talking and texting while driving. One is astronomically worse. Both are distractions for sure, but I think only one needs to be legislated against.

  • fitteryou Aug 3, 2012

    People, Have some common sense, and take your driving seriously. Each mroning and evening there are least four accidents reported. Not suprising since NC has one of the worst driving records in the nation! SC is first; All the behaviors mentioned here should be common sense to all; they are not! We need to get out of our own world and start behaving responsibly.

  • tdouble232323 Aug 3, 2012

    This is not a political issue. Anyone that has spent a few minutes/hours on NC Highways has surely seen the risk of those distracted drivers talking on their cell phones.

  • fitteryou Aug 3, 2012

    It is a pity the self-absorbed, narcists need to be policed, and lawed to death, because they do not possess the common sense not to drive while texting or talking. Sign of the times.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Aug 3, 2012

    A generic "Driving While Distracted" law (as someone else even mentioned here), would handle *everything*. They already do this in California.

    I can't understand why they don't do this here. It covers everyhting.

    Then, the cops could give a ticket to someone on the phone, even if they're using a hands-free phone, if that person was driving like they weren't paying attention.

    It would also cover every other ridiculous non-driving task that ignorant/inconsiderate people perform on a daily basis: disciplining their children, putting on makeup, smoking/eating/drinking, reading, looking through the car for papers/CD's/cigarettes, etc.

  • raleigh88888 Aug 3, 2012

    >There was a legislative order depriving people of the liberty to use their cell phone property in a certain way. Those people were ordered to give up that freedom without a trial. Yes sir that's a violation of due process. Only the judiciary may decrease your liberty or property rights, and then only after an impartial two-sided public hearing. - renaissancemon

    No, sir. You remain incorrect. The due process clause had nothing to do with the Court's ruling. And I mean that quite literally - you will not find it cited in any of the court papers. I think you are confusing procedural due process (the rights you describe, which would apply, for example, if someone where charged with a violation of this statute) with the issue of whether this local ordinance was preempted by state law. The Court did not hold that the litigatnts' due process was denied, it held that the statute was preempted by the authority given to the North Carolina legislature. Believe me, if the NC legislature wan

  • Six String Aug 3, 2012

    Good comment starvingdog. While we're at it, let's ban conversation with passengers, operating I-pods and CD players, eating while driving, sudden sneezes (can cause jerking of steering wheel), driving directly into the sun (blindness) and crying babies who need attention. That ought to make us good and safe. There might even be more things we can ban while driving, I'll give that some thought -- just not while driving.

  • starvingdog Aug 2, 2012

    A statewide ban on hand-held phone use would seem to pass the 'common sense' test. Banning hands free is just too much. Both are distracting, but at least with hands free one can keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road. Other distractions, such as fiddling with the radio, yelling at kids, etc. may call for a "Driving while distracted"rule. This could cover a lot of cases, such as the folks on the beltline reading the paper draped over the steering wheel at 70 mph..