Phone ban goes to high court

The fate of Chapel Hill’s towing and mobile phone ordinances is once again up in the air after the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed on Friday to review the controversial laws.

The town’s modified towing ordinance, requiring tow zones to have clear signs, tow operators to alert the police department when they tow a vehicle and tow operators not to tow vehicles more than 15 miles outside of Chapel Hill, was supposed to go into effect in 2012.

That same year, the town made the use of cellphones while driving a secondary offense, meaning a driver pulled over for a different traffic violation could also be fined $25 for using their phone while driving.

In June, the N.C. Court of Appeals reviewed the ordinances in response to complaints from George King, the owner of George’s Towing and Recovery in Chapel Hill. The court ruled the town could enforce both laws, and King sought review by the state Supreme Court.

Although not originally connected, local towing companies argued the ordinances were contradictory — tow operators were required to alert police when they towed a vehicle, but could not use a cellphone while driving to do so.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he hadn’t expected the Supreme Court to agree to review the case.

“I was actually kind of surprised,” he said. “It puts our win at risk.”

Kleinschmidt, a proponent of both ordinances, said the Supreme Court has recently reviewed cases regarding how much a town is allowed to regulate.

Town Council member Matt Czajkowski said he thinks the town’s pushing the cellphone ban after towing companies linked the two ordinances has complicated the town’s towing regulations, allowing local towing companies to charge as much as they want.

He said the town backing both of the ordinances has led to neither of the regulations being enforced.

“The trade-off doesn’t seem like a very good one to me,” Czajkowski said.

He said the cellphone ban is a “feel good law” designed to educate the public about the dangers of using cellphones while driving.

“I’ve been an opponent of the stupid cellphone law from the beginning,” Czajkowski said. “Everybody agrees it’s barely going to get enforced in any form.”

He said the town has been without towing regulations for over a year, and a court decision may take many months.

The town and George’s Towing and Recovery must now file briefs and the case will be scheduled to be heard before the Supreme Court.

city@dailytarheel.com

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