I wasn’t at Town Hall on Monday, February 20th but I watched the proceedings from the comfort of home. Too bad what I heard didn’t make me very comfortable. I appreciated the emotional and heartfelt comments from those who want the Town of Chapel Hill to be the first jurisdiction in North Carolina to ban the use of cell phones while driving. I get that driving while distracted is not conducive to the safe operation of a moving vehicle, and I also get that unsafe driving puts people at risk.
What I don’t get is how the proposed ordinance with various loophole exceptions solves the problem. As a secondary offense, a police officer can only cite you for cell phone use if you are stopped for some other reason. If that’s the objective, the fine of $25 isn’t much of a deterrent. How will officers know if you were using a hands-free device? I guess the officer can say your lips were moving, but do we want to place our officers in that position? The last thing we need is an ordinance that is overly difficult to enforce.
Moreover, we aren’t even sure that the proposed ordinance is legal. I didn’t feel very reassured when I heard our Town Attorney say that he believed it could withstand a court challenge. Of course that might mean we will have to spend money on another court case and surely, we have better things to do with our money. Education is the key so let’s educate about all driving distractions and not pass an ineffective ordinance just to be able to brag that we were first. Is there a disconnect here?
Postscript: Some think that the General Assembly has failed to pass legislation banning the use of cell phones because they lack political courage. Are there other explanations that we might consider? I think that some understand what this would mean for those who would have to enforce it. Our police officers deserve better and we should spend our energy finding ways to enhance our educational efforts. Can we really make all of the things people do in their cars that are distractions to safe diving a violation of the law?