Chapel Hill, North Carolina Bans Driver Use Of Mobile Phones

March 27, 2012
While many states, counties and municipalities have laws on the books regulating the use of cell phones while driving, Chapel Hill, North Carolina has become the first city in the United States to enact an outright ban on the use of cell phones behind the wheel.

We’re not referring to texting while driving, since that’s already illegal in the state of North Carolina. We’re not referring to the use of a hand-held cell phone, either, since the newly passed ordinance prohibits the use of even hands-free devices while operating a motor vehicle.

That means no Bluetooth headsets, no external speakers and no integrated Bluetooth, either, which includes current in-car (and manufacturer-provided) systems. The measure was approved by the city council on Monday night, and goes into effect on June 1, 2012.

As the News Observer points out, the resolution proved difficult to pass, and has been in discussion for some two years. A previous vote on the matter resulted in a deadlock, which was broken on Monday by a council member absent from the last vote.

The new ruling allows for emergency calls, and the wording of the ordinance seems to permit calls with a spouse, parent or child as well. We fail to see how that makes any sense at all, since calls to family members are no more or less disruptive than calls to other parties. Get caught talking to a friend, though, and the fine is $25.

The ordinance may not stand, since the state attorney general’s office has already ruled that Chapel Hill lacks the authority to prohibit cell phone use while driving. Since the city ordinance is preempted by state law, the ban is essentially unenforceable, even if it was adopted with the best of intentions.

Similar municipal rulings have produced positive results. Evanston, Illinois bans hand-held cell phone use (but not hands-free), and in the two years since passing the law has seen a 17.6-percent reduction in accidents. Drivers in Evanston caught using a phone are fined $50, but the penalty jumps to $200 if the driver is involved in an accident.

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