By now everyone who pays attention to such things knows that tiny Chapel Hill, population 58,000 and home to the University of North Carolina, passed a ban against using the cell phone while driving – no texting, no hands-free or Bluetooth, no hand-held phone use permitted.
It is the only town, city or local municipality with such a law.
Members of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has recommended such a ban nationally, praised the passage of the law last week (it goes into effect June 1).
While adhering to the ban will undoubtedly increase safety on the road – both for those using the phone and for those in any proximity of that driver – it faces issues such as how well it be enforced and what will be the impact on those who use cell phones to hold down jobs.
AAA Carolinas has long advocated a ban on hand-held cell phones while driving and recognizes that even when using a hands-free device, the conversation can be distracting. But two hands on the wheel will always permit a quicker, better reaction in an emergency situation.
The fine is $25 and the offense is considered a secondary one, meaning an officer must first stop the vehicle for another reason before issuing a citation for cell phone use while driving. Exceptions include usage for an emergency or calls with a spouse, parent or child.
Known as an academic and cultural town with strong liberal views, the council’s action has created a firestorm over cell phone use. Known for its dangers, cell phone use, hand-held and hands-free, is prevalent for many workers in real estate, service delivery, taxi operation, etc.
And while the NTSB says cell phone use is responsible for many traffic deaths, research by dozens of universities and consultants has shown it is all types of distracted driving that cause traffic crashes and cell phone use may not be the most common.
A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety done in North Carolina using video in 50 cars driven by teens, no less, found the most common distractions to be adjusting controls, personal grooming and eating and drinking.
One second looking away behind the wheel at 65 miles per hour allows the car to travel the length of a basketball court without the driver looking at the road.
Chapel Hill’s action, whether it stands up to court challenges or not, has raised the awareness level that talking on a phone while driving is dangerous.
Chapel Hill’s actions may create a much-needed impetus for discussion by the General Assembly. At the very least, a ban on hand-held phones while driving would be easily enforceable, would not harm (maybe inconvenience at first) those who use cell phone communication for work and would help reduce distracted driving crashes in North Carolina.
The bottom line for all of us is simple: Pay attention only to the road when driving. You are behind the wheel of a potential death vehicle.