CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council voted 7-1 on Monday to delay implementation of the town’s ban on cell phone use while driving until October 1.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said there’s still a slim chance the state Supreme Court could agree to hear the case.
“I personally believe it is unwise to tinker with this until we get some finality,” Kleinschmidt told the council. “I’m also concerned about going ahead and expending resources on education campaigns and other kinds of things that say that there’s a cell phone ban while driving in effect, when it still might be in jeopardy.”
When the council approved the ban back in March of 2012, it was the first in the nation to prohibit the use of both hand-held and hands-free devices behind the wheel.
However, a lawsuit challenging both the cell phone driving ban and the town’s towing regulations lead to an injunction from the Orange County Superior Court that prevented the ban from taking effect last year.
That injunction was dissolved by the state Court of Appeals earlier this month, making it possible for the town to start enforcing the ban next week. Instead, council members agreed they want more time to wrap up the legal proceedings and work on an educational campaign for drivers.
Council member Matt Czajkowski cast the lone vote against the delay. He argued the ban is not likely to be enforced, and said he’d rather see the town focus on enforcing the state-wide ban on texting while driving instead.
“We would be much better off if we as a town said we are going to enforce the anti-texting laws,” said Czajkowski. “But we’re not going to do that. We’re going to educate people on the dangers of using cell phones in cars, with the likelihood of anybody ever being cited somewhere between slim to non-existent.”
Once Chapel Hill’s ban is in place, use of a cell phone while driving inside the town limits would be a secondary offense, meaning police could only charge drivers who had been stopped for other violations. Drivers found to be using a phone behind the wheel could be subject to a $25 fine.
Kurt Ribisl is a professor at UNC’s Gillings Schoool of Global Public Health. He told the council the ban could set a precedent for other communities to follow.
“I think it’s fantastic, I think we’re setting the norm,” said Ribisl. “I think we’re going to see communities across the country passing similar policies like this in the coming years. I’m glad we’re at the forefront and I thank you for your leadership.”
The cell phone driving ban is slated to go into effect on October 1, but the council will have another chance to review the ordinance this fall.
The towing regulations, which limit how much tow operators can charge and require increased signage on private lots, will go into effect next Monday.