Local News

Cellphone ban worries some Chapel Hill businesses

Posted March 28, 2012 6:27 p.m. EDT
Updated March 28, 2012 7:09 p.m. EDT

— Some small-business owners say that they expect Chapel Hill's cellphone ban for drivers will cost them time and money when the ordinance takes effect in June.

The Town Council voted 5-4 Monday to outlaw both handheld and hands-free cellphones while driving, making the town the first North Carolina community to enact such a ban.

It's not a welcome first for Mark England, who co-owns Advanta Clean, a cleaning service that responds to fire and water emergencies in Chapel Hill.

"I work out of my car, so I rely a lot on email and cellphone," England said.

A lot of his business, he says, is dependent on how fast he's able to respond in emergency situations. Missing a cellphone call, email or text, he says, could cost him several thousands of dollars in lost work.

"It doesn't make Chapel Hill more attractive to work in at all," he said. "We do emergency services, so we go wherever we are called, but I could focus more of my marketing efforts outside of Chapel Hill."

He's not alone in his concern for how the ban might affect business.

Sera Cuni, general manager of Foster's Market near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, thinks it goes too far.

The market has about a dozen deliveries a day.

"A lot of our customers ask us to call when we are on our way or when we get to the door – because a lot of (buildings on) the university are locked. So, that's really going to hinder us," Cuni said. "I think it's extreme."

Town Councilwoman Penny Rich, who pushed for the ordinance, says the ban is nothing against businesses.

"I think this is just purely safety measures to make sure our citizens are safe," she said.

Studies have shown that drivers who use handheld devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to cause injury.

Data collected from the state Department of Transportation from 2004 to 2008 shows an average of 57,984 people a year were involved in crashes in North Carolina where distracted driving was a factor. More than 13,000 were injured, and 119 died.

In February, the town hosted a driving simulation event on the UNC campus in which would-be drivers measured their driving skills and saw how quickly attention can be diverted with cellphones.

"It doesn't matter if you are holding a phone or not," Rich said. "It's actually the act of holding the conversation that creates this inattentive blindness."

Under the ban, cellphone use would be a secondary offense, meaning an officer must first stop a vehicle for another reason before issuing a citation for violating the ban. Violators would be fined $25.

North Carolina drivers already are prohibited from sending text messages while driving. Drivers under 18 are banned from any phone use.

Ten states and the District of Columbia have bans on using hand-held cellphones while driving.