State Court Overturns Local Ban on Cell Phones While Driving

North Carolina Supreme Court says Chapel Hill cell phone ordinance overreached.

by / June 16, 2014

The North Carolina Supreme Court overturned a local ordinance banning the use of cell phones while driving. The court ruled unanimously that the Chapel Hill ordinance overreached the authority of local government and that highways and roads were primarily the jurisdiction of the state. The court also struck down an ordinance that capped towing fees and prohibited towing companies from passing credit card fees on to consumers.

A Chapel Hill towing company operator, George King, sued the town in 2012, arguing that he couldn't obey the town’s towing laws without breaking the cellphone ban, because tow truck operators are required to notify police before towing a vehicle and to return calls from vehicle owners within 15 minutes.

In its ruling, the court noted that state laws already restrict cell phone use by drivers under the age of 18, and by drivers of buses and commercial vehicles.

The town asked the state Attorney General to advise on the cellphone ordinance before passage, and he recommended against it. The town’s former police chief also noted that the ban would be challenging to enforce, but town council approved the ban with the idea that no driver would be cited for violating the ordinance unless they were already being stopped for another violation.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he agreed with overturning the cell phone ordinance and that it had originally passed despite his objections in 2012. The overruling of the towing fee schedule, however, was "ridiculous" because it puts citizens at the mercy of the towing companies, he said.

There are others who maintain that towing fee caps restrict the free market, while a ban on using cell phones while driving is a safety measure that ought to be revisited, News Observer reported.