Local News

Chapel Hill considers cell phone ban for drivers

Posted February 8, 2010 11:00 p.m. EST
Updated February 9, 2010 12:11 a.m. EST

— The Chapel Hill Town Council is considering a town-wide ban on the use of handheld devices to make calls while driving.

Council member Penny Rich said Monday that banning cell phone use while driving would improve safety on the road.

"In Chapel Hill ... we keep growing and we have more cars on the road. We don't need anymore distractions,” Rich said.

Chapel Hill resident Thomas Transue said he supports a ban and said people talking on the phone while driving are dangerous.

"It's just as bad as being behind the wheel intoxicated," Transue said. "I'd support a ban because it would keep people from using their phone if they knew they got a fine.”

According to AAA, a person who uses a cell phone while driving has the same deficient motor skills as someone with 0.08 blood-alcohol content level, which the state considers legally impaired.

State law already bans drivers from text messaging or sending e-mails with their cell phones. Under the law, drivers have to either pull over or wait until they have stopped their vehicle before texting or sending an e-mail. Violators face a $100 fine, plus court costs.

However, the texting ban, which went into effect last December, doesn't go far enough for some drivers.

“Texting is really bad because you're taking your eyes off the road. But talking on the cell phone is not good either because you're really distracted,” Chapel Hill resident Jerry Stau said.

But some residents don't support the idea of a ban and say talking on a cell phone while driving is sometimes necessary.

"There are times when you have to pick up the phone and whether it's an emergency or someone’s calling you, and if you're in the car, then that’s where you are. I don't think someone should take those options away,” Chapel Hill resident Betsy Carter said.

Council members plan to hear from the public on this issue later this month. It’s likely they would need approval from state General Assembly before being able to create a ban on cell phone use while driving. They would also have to address how to enforce it.

California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia ban talking on a hand-held device for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

In all of those territories except Washington state, police can pull over and ticket a driver for cell phone use.

The Highway Loss Data Institute released a study last month examining insurance claims from crashes before and after cell-phone bans took effect in California, New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

The organization found that insurance claim rates did not go down after the laws were enacted. It also found no change in patterns compared with nearby states without such bans.

The National Safety Council, meanwhile, supports a total ban on cell phone use while driving, including the use of handsfree devices.