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Chapel Hill Passes Cell Phone Ban to Reduce Distracted Driving Accidents

Distracted driving accidents in North Carolina cause far too many injuries and wrongful deaths every year. Drivers who are distracted by cell phone conversations, texting, eating or checking maps may take their eyes off the road at just the wrong moment, causing them to run red lights, veer from their lanes or fail to notice stopped vehicles.

One way to crack down on distracted driving is the passage of tougher traffic laws to make activities like texting illegal. To that end, city officials in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, recently passed the strictest cell-phone ban in the country.

Starting June 1, all drivers in Chapel Hill will be prohibited from using either hand-held or hands-free cell phones unless they are in a stationary vehicle. The ban will even prohibit drivers from using wireless communications systems that are built into newer vehicles.

The new law has a significantly wider reach than North Carolina’s statewide law, which bans texting by all drivers but currently only prohibits cell phone use by bus drivers and novice drivers.

Other notable features of the law:

  • The ordinance states that “no person 18 years of age or older shall use a mobile telephone or any additional technology associated with a mobile telephone while operating a motor vehicle in motion on a public street or highway or public vehicular area.”
  • “Additional technology” means any technology that allows a driver to access digital media such as cameras, music, games or the Internet. In other words, phone-based MP3 players cannot be used.
  • The law creates exceptions for drivers who are making emergency calls or are calling immediate family members, including parents, children, spouses, and legal guardians.
  • Drivers cited for illegal cell-phone use are subject to a $25 fine.

However, unlike the statewide law, which is a primary offense, officers in Chapel Hill cannot issue a citation unless the driver has been pulled over based on separate state law or a local ordinance violation involving motor vehicle operation, ownership or maintenance.

National Attention to Local North Carolina Distracted Driving Ordinance

Immediate praise from two important national sources shows the importance of the unprecedented ban passed by Chapel Hill council members. Because a wide range of studies have shown that hands-free devices are not significantly safer than handheld phones, highway safety advocates have repeatedly argued that total cell phone bans will save even more lives. Research has shown that the brain cannot effectively carry out demanding thinking tasks such as phone conversations and driving at the same time.

Janet Froetscher, president of the National Safety Council (NSC), summed up her organization’s approval in a statement: “In passing a total ban, Chapel Hill has taken a significant step toward making their roads safer.” The NSC, which first called for a total ban in 2009, has consistently argued that hands-free devices do nothing to eliminate distractions to drivers.

Late last year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a recommendation that all states should ban all use of portable electronic devices by all motorists. Consistent with that message, NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman’s opening remarks at a recent distracted driving forum included personal congratulations to two local advocates who had been instrumental in passing the Chapel Hill ban.

Holding Distracted Drivers Accountable Beyond Traffic Fines

Assuming even a best-case scenario, enforcement of traffic violations will not discourage all irresponsible behavior behind the wheel. When a driver’s inattention leads to a fatal car wreck or a hit-and-run accident, the legal implications are dead serious. Whether or not the resulting car accident involved a violation of distracted driving laws, inattentive drivers can and should be held accountable for the harm they cause.

North Carolina car accident attorneys provide many key services to clients from the outset of any case, including an explanation of the importance of evidence of liability. Witness accounts, cell phone records, and other evidence can play an extremely important role in exposing negligence that led to a crash.


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