Chapel Hill bans all cell phone use while driving, sign of things to come?

The city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina has become the first city in the United States to ban all cell phone use while driving, according to a News Observer report. While several other cities and states have banned texting and handset calling while in a moving vehicle, Chapel Hill becomes the first to include hands-free devices in the usage ban, likely inspired by research that has suggested using a hands-free device does not reduce the likelihood of accidents.

Chapel Hill’s city council passed the legislation by a divided 5-4 vote, though it is unclear whether the law will actually be enforceable. An inquiry to the state attorney general’s office found that the city did not have the authority to mandate cell phone use. Critics have also argued that a city-wide ban could be superseded by state law, and thus unenforceable by city police. This argument seems to have some merit to it, as state of Pennsylvania courts have struck down similar city-wide efforts in cities there.

Even if the measure is allowed to proceed, the ban is a “secondary violation,” which means that police officers cannot directly stop a vehicle for violating the law, but could only charge motorists they pulled over for something else. Further, the law allows for emergency calls to authorities, spouses, partners, or children, and officers would need to check the cell phone to ensure the call did not fall under one of these categories. This type of search could be viewed as a violation of privacy, especially amidst the growing number of mobile privacy violation cases out there.

The fact that Chapel Hill has passed a ban on all cellular usage could signal a growing sentiment against cell phone usage while driving, and we could start to see these issues discussed at state and even federal levels. While most would admit to the dangers of texting and handset calls while driving, the more contentious issue will likely be hands-free calls, which have been widely touted as the safe alternative to handset calling. Rightly or wrongly, most consumers feel hands-free calling is okay, and even the ideal solution for mobile productivity in the car despite a growing amount of research that suggests otherwise.

One thing is for sure; in an age where our smartphones are quickly replacing several of the tasks we used to use computers to achieve, the debate over usage of these mobile devices in vehicles is only going to escalate.

[via The Next Web, News Observer]

  • Anonymous

    However, it is still entirely legal for women to apply their makeup and men to shave while driving.

    On a more serious note, however, the basis for this law is the idea that it is the conversation, not the device, that causes the distraction; therefore it is necessary to eliminate the conversation by applying the ban to hands-free devices. But if that theory applies, then is it also not appropriate to ban any passenger being in the vehicle? After all, anytime there is more than just the driver in the car, there will be conversation involving the driver. And since the entire basis for this law is that the conversation — not the device —  is the problem, then is it not inconsistent to ban cell phone use even with hands-free devices and NOT ban passengers since there is no substantial difference between the two??

    • Passengers may decrease alertness, but they are additional sensors – net gain in situational awareness to the driver, reduction in accidents. I’ve seen articles quoting stats to show this, can’t remember where though… The big problem is this: how do you enforce a law like this, technically? Singing along with the radio is legal, as is talking to yourself. The former may actually help maintain alertness; the later, maybe not. My point is how does an officer tell the difference between these actions and a violation?

      • Anonymous

        The solution is to write laws based on general principles, not specific actions. By that I mean, make distracted driving illegal. Sure, it may be something of a judgement call, but it makes more sense then trying to write a law for every specific action, which as you point out can STILL be a judgement call. Distracted driving laws would cover anything when a driver is clearly driving distracted.

        Besides the fact that the folks who like to throw around statistics about cell phone use and distracted driving are ignoring other distracted driving behaviors (but which they don’t want criminalized, perhaps because they engage in those behaviors themselves) is the fact that even their own statistics (not to mention common sense) show that some people CAN actually “walk and chew gum” at the same time. By making distracted driving (rather than cell phone usage) illegal those who can safely drive and talk (whether on a cell phone or not) are not punished for the failings of other people.

  • Local governments everywhere are desperate for new sources of income and have turned to traffic violations as a lucrative way of getting more of the tax payers money.

  • JD2005

    You know what pisses me off…I am punished by the idiots who can’t breath and think at the same time, so are of course ‘distracted’ by cell phone use instead of recognizing their own shortcomings and using their devices responsibly, so government then steps in and outright bans things as ‘distractions’…yet I still drive down the road being blasted by hundreds of in your face advertisements, now even in full color video!  Why is this fair?

  • A K

    I. Hate. Busybodies.

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