Local News

Council members discuss cell phone ban for drivers in Chapel Hill

Posted February 22, 2010 10:21 p.m. EST
Updated February 22, 2010 11:50 p.m. EST

— The Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday evening discussed a proposal to ban the use of handheld devices to make calls while driving.

Capt. Bob Overton raised concerns over how Chapel Hill police would enforce the ban and who would be exempt.

"The problem is, if there were any exemptions, like 911 emergency calls,” Overton explained.

Everyone agreed the goal of the ban would be to improve safety on the roads, but is it realistic to expect drivers to comply.

"This is a really difficult issue for me,” said council member Sally Greene, who admitted to talking on her cell phone while driving.

"It’s great for us to pursue it, but it really won't work absolutely ... unless it's a statewide ban,” council member Ed Harrison said.

Joe Capowski was the only Chapel Hill resident who spoke publicly Monday in support of the ban.

"Distracted driving is a national issue whose battle is just beginning,” said Capowski, who is a former council member. "Please council members do your part at the local level. As you all know, think globally but act locally. Pass a ban on cell phone use while driving."

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.

Council members said Monday that they plan to review an upcoming report from the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee before moving forward with possible legislation. The report will cover the leading causes of driver distraction, as well as methods used to manage driver preoccupation.

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.