The Chapel Hill Town Council (CHTC) has banned the use of all types of cell phones by drivers: both the handheld and the hands-free as of June 1.  If you’re a regular Chapelboro reader, you probably know this.  What you might not realize is what it may cost you and I’m not talking about the $25 fine.  

Here’s the scoop:  this ban will end up in court and the town will have to pay to defend it and council members knew that and decided to spend our tax dollars (and/or staff time- which we also fund) doing so.  

I keep hearing about priority-based budgeting, that we’ll have to make tough choices about what to fund, that our already high taxes will have to go up….  and now, this little expected expenditure.  Really people?  This is your priority?  

In a terrifically thorough discussion of the likely court arguments, WCHL News Director Aaron Keck and Legal Analyst Hampton Dellinger explain why this ban may be unenforceable.  There’s even an opinion from the North Carolina Attorney General’s office saying so and guess what?  That opinion was available to the CHTC before members voted. 

I too have seen drivers oblivious to all else but their phones, weaving and dawdling their way through traffic.  Somehow I know they’re on the phone because they are using one of their hands to hold the device instead of the steering wheel.  “Both hands on the wheel,” my driver’s ed. teacher told me.  

So if hands-free devices are also being banned, I bet the phone lines are jammed at Performance Automall to make appointments to remove car radios (perish the thought!).  Also, the Chapel Hill Town Council must be moving some priority budgeting over to childcare because I certainly can’t be talking to my child in the backseat; that’s a hands-free conversation too.  Also, inventors must be furiously working on patented devices to detect chewing gum and Chapstick that may also be illegal to use inside my vehicle.  

I’m not advocating distracted, unsafe driving; I’m saying that each driver is licensed and is required to pay attention.  Once we get beyond the rule of both hands on the wheel, we’d have to start regulating daydreams, laughter, rubbernecking and dozens of other hands-free distractions that happen to all of us at some point when we’re driving.  While I think this is impossible, as is the upcoming ban, I think the bigger problem is a question of those darn priorities.  

I submit that all elected officials need to look at the biggest possible picture when making decisions and voting on laws, plans, bans, etc.  This ban reeks of being voted on in the abstract, in a world where taxes and budgets and residents in need are on the periphery.  It’s nice to take a utopian stand but only when we live in Utopia.  

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