Town Council set the bar high last night – its meeting adjourned at 9:20 p.m., a relief to all who slogged through those meetings last fiscal year that ran over into the next day. Mayor pro tem Jim Ward, conducting the meeting in the absence of Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt who was ill, all but picked up the agenda sheet and looked on the other side to see whether he’d missed something before he adjourned the meeting before those of us watching from home as dinner theater reached the dessert course.
Discussion of the proposed ban on cell phones while driving took up the most time. After town attorney Ralph Karpinos explained that he wasn’t sure a town ordinance would hold up on state roads, the public comment portion began. Three people from UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health made a presentation that showed, among other data, that hands-free cell phones are more distracting to a driver than having a blood alcohol level of 0.10. Former council member Joe Capowski spoke out in favor of a ban, and two town residents, while wanting drivers to abstain from using cell phones, thought the ban was not practical or enforceable. One noted that a similar ban in New York had not stopped people from talking on the phone while driving.
All council members agreed that cell phone use while driving was dangerous. Gene Pease was the first to speak out against Chapel Hill passing an ordinance against it. The state needed to act first, he said. Donna Bell pointed out that any distraction can cause an accident, so banning cell phones while driving wouldn’t guarantee safe streets. Matt Czajkowski asked about the cost of implementing the ban, including town legal fees after someone inevitably files a lawsuit that there is no certainty the town would win.
Penny Rich wanted the last word, but after her speech, Laurin Easthom spoke up.
“Where will it end?” Easthom asked. People do lots of things they shouldn’t do, but they have to take personal responsibility for themselves, she said.
I could have cried I was so happy to hear a council member advocating for personal responsibility.
From the comments, it looked like the council would vote 5-3 against the ban (with Ward, Greene and Rich for the ordinance). But when it came time to raise their right hands, council voted 6-2 to have Karpinos draw up a draft ordinance. Easthom and Pease stood their ground.
The matter is not a done deal. The public and police will have a chance to weigh in once the draft ordinance has been drawn up.
– Nancy Oates