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Chapel Hill hands-free cell phone ban back in play tonight (March 26); would be first in nation

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(UPDATE: Cell phone ban – including hands-free use – passes)

As the home of the Tar Heels, Chapel Hill gets plenty of national attention. Still, it hurts like heck that the Kansas Jayhawks put the skids on the Heels’ run for the NCAA championship last night.

But tonight – although UNC didn’t make the Final Four – the town of Chapel Hill will get another shot at nationwide recognition, albeit in another arena.

A proposal to ban all cell phone use while driving in the town limits is on the Monday town council agenda. And the proposal includes an option to ban using a hands-free device to talk and drive while a vehicle is in motion.

Photo from leadinghands.org

Hands-free sets can give a driver a false sense of safety behind the wheel.

The rule to prohibit hand-free conversations by drivers would be the first such ban in the United States, according to the town attorney.

The ordinance would make driving while talking on cell phone a secondary offense, which means a driver could be ticketed for it when stopped for another violation. The rule would make exceptions for emergency calls. Offending drivers would be fined $25.

On March 12, the town council voted on a first reading of the ordinance. But because one council member was absent, they wound up with a 4-4 tie – sending the game in overtime, so to speak.

Tonight, with a key player back on the floor, a 5-4 vote can put Chapel Hill in the record books.

The following links provide a review of information and background on the issue.

Town Council Agenda: Monday, March 26, 2012

Item No. 11: An executive summary of the ordinance and attachments, including links to:

  • The town attorney’s memorandum on the ordinance, including key issues raised at a Feb. 20 public hearing.
  • The text of the ordinance.
  • A letter of support from the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board to the Mayor of Chapel Hill.

Videos of the Feb. 20 public hearing and the March 12 meeting.

Overview: My blog discussing the March 12 meeting and cell phone ban issues, including:

  • The NTSB’s recommendation for nationwide ban of the use of cell phones while driving, including hands-free devices.
  • U.S. Department of Transportation proposed guidelines on reducing cell phone distraction while driving.
  • The debate on whether a municipality has the authority to regulate cell phone use while driving or if state law overrides local authority.
  • Media reports on the issue, including a report on how a local ban on hand-held device use has already been reducing accidents for two years in Evanston, Illinois.

Naysayers will be passing around a lot of objections: Police can’t realistically enforce the law. Prohibition didn’t work, so this won’t either. Other activities such as eating or fiddling with music devices are just as distracting. (That last one comes under the heading of “other distractions cause accidents, so why not add another one?)

Hands-free devices give drivers false feeling of safety when they are behind the wheel. Research shows that phone conversations cause a different and dangerous kind of distraction when compared to other activities, such as talking to a passenger. But the fact that federal agencies are getting involved shows that momentum is building on a national scale to block this threat to highway safety.

If Chapel Hill takes the lead on this issue tonight, the town will chalk up another national victory, and the lives saved will mean a victory for us all.

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    Chapel Hill Town Council meeting is streaming live now. You can find it on this page: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=958
    Mac users need to have “Silverlight” which can be downloaded from the “streaming video support” link. Safari will download it.