Speak up on cell phone ban

Tonight Town Council will hold a public hearing to debate whether Chapel Hill moves one step closer to becoming an exclusive community. The ordinance up for discussion proposes that Chapel Hill ban some drivers from talking to certain people on a cell phone while driving on selected streets in town.

Study upon study and layers of anecdotes from police who respond to accidents show that driving while talking on the phone, whether or not you’re using your hands in the call, is as dangerous as driving drunk. So the town has agreed to entertain a law to reduce that risk, in some places and for some people. The proposed ordinance would ban cell phone use only for drivers who:
 are unmarried; or
 have a spouse of the same gender, and the marriage is not recognized by the State of North Carolina; or
 choose not to have children; or
 are unable to have children; or
 do not have a living parent; or
 are wealthy enough to afford a car with a hands-free mobile phone.

The ordinance aimed to make the streets safer for all of us by banning cell phone use while driving makes exceptions for people talking to a spouse, parent, child or legal guardian or talking on a hands-free device. I suppose you could make the argument that who really listens to their spouse or kids or parents anyway, but I don’t get the exemption for the hands-free technology.

A report from the Chapel Hill Police said that a law against people talking on hands-free devices would be difficult to enforce, but so would a law that specifies exemptions based on whom you’re talking to. The law, which imposes a $25 fine for violaters, is an after-the-fact law, anyway. Police have far too much to do to pull over drivers talking on the phone and asking who they’re talking to, unless the phone user has just caused an accident. And if you’re driving while distracted and stray over the center line or mow down a pedestrian or bicyclist, are you absolved as long as you can prove you were on the phone reminding the kids to do clean out the litter box or asking hubby to pick up some broccoli on the way home from work?

I hope council will pick apart the ordinance with the same intensity they applied to the Peace and Justice Plaza ordinance. And once the state passes a law that allows Chapel Hill to enforce a ban on cell phone use by drivers on all streets in town, I hope the council enacts a law to ban all drivers from talking on the phone, regardless of whom they’re talking to. Tonight’s your chance to speak up.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. John Kramer

     /  February 20, 2012

    If they pass this law, how is there going to be any discussion regarding such urgent issues as affordable housing????

  2. Ph. Johnson-Sledge

     /  February 20, 2012

    This proposed ban is utter nonsense, unenforceable, and a complete waste of Council’s time. If and when the state is successful in passing such a law, we’ll all observe it. For such a “progressive” community to entertain a plan that avidly embraces such a level of discrimination is ridiculous. If one were to have an auto accident while using a cell phone, how will who we were talking to at the time be verified? Will it be just the driver’s word, or will we be forced to turn our phone records over to the police? Council needs to find real, enforceable issues to work on–this is an embarrassment.

  3. DOM

     /  February 20, 2012

    This bit of craziness isn’t even worth commenting on. Oops…

  4. Joe Capowski

     /  February 20, 2012

    Nancy, you forgot to note in your list that the ordinance only applies on Thursdays for southpaws, and that
    the broccoli must be organic and purchased only at
    Whole Foods or Fresh Market.
    Seriously, the point of the public hearing is what its name implies, to hear from the public. If you like or dislike the entire ordinance or some of its details, come out and express yourselves.

  5. Jon DeHart

     /  February 20, 2012

    Does public comment really matter ? I know that Board(all citizens) input didn’t matter when Charterwood was voted on . All Boards recommended approval and it was denied .

    I think everyone agrees, we would all be safer with less people being distracted by their electronic devices . Problem is , the law would be unenforcable . Our Police force would be put in a tough positiion and their job is tough enough already .

    I would like to see my elected officials working on issues involving economic development and lowering my taxes . I want them to be leaders for the entire town and not just their personal projects .

  6. DOM

     /  February 20, 2012

    “I would like to see my elected officials working on issues involving economic development and lowering my taxes. I want them to be leaders for the entire town and not just their personal projects.”

    That’s what I meant to say.

  7. Jon DeHart

     /  February 20, 2012

    Just watched the replay of the public hearing . Three people plus Joe C who spoke in favor of it . Doesn’t seem like overwhelming demand . Our Leaders have been discussing for two years , imagine if these folks would have put the same time and energy into attracting a new company or business to Chapel Hill. And from what I can tell it could cause us to be sued if someone gets a ticket . Causing more wasted time and money …

  8. Leroy towns

     /  February 21, 2012

    The good news: when the council discusses this silly issue, it is not doing the damage that usually goes in the meetings.

  9. Nancy Oates

     /  February 21, 2012

    Of the four people who spoke, one was from Asheville and related a story that, while heart-wrenching, involved an accident by a driver texting on the Interstate, which doesn’t relate to the ordinance being discussed. Texting is already against the law, but that didn’t prevent the accident, and Interstates aren’t local roads. I got the impression that another speaker, who talked about technology he invented, also was not a local resident. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the NTSB hired them to lobby.

  10. Jon DeHart

     /  February 21, 2012

    I didn’t know the background of the others .

    There is no doubt that we all should hang up and drive .

    However, these 2 questions keep coming in my mind are : 1. Do we have the authority 2. Can we enforce it ?

  11. Philip

     /  February 22, 2012

    This is a serious problem, but one that won’t be solved by municipalities passing unenforceable laws. It needs to be approached in the same manner as the seatbelt laws, which have been extremely successful.