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Friday August 12th

Chapel Hill cellphone ban delayed further

<p>George’s Towing and Recovery filed a lawsuit, now overturned, against Chapel Hill’s cell phone ban and towing restrictions.</p>
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George’s Towing and Recovery filed a lawsuit, now overturned, against Chapel Hill’s cell phone ban and towing restrictions.

Chapel Hill drivers won’t be forced to hang up that cellphone just yet.

In a meeting Monday, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted to delay the start of the town’s cellphone ban until Oct. 1 and to allow a set of townwide towing restrictions to go into effect June 24.

The cellphone ordinance bans all hand-held and hands-free phone use while driving on Chapel Hill roads, with exceptions for emergency and family communications. Drivers cannot be stopped for cellphone use alone, but may be cited for it if they are pulled over for another offense.

Both the cellphone and towing ordinances had been temporarily halted by an N.C. Superior Court decision. But on June 4, the N.C. Court of Appeals overturned the injunction, ruling that the town could enforce the towing rules. The court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the cellphone ban.

The ruling said the town could enforce the ban while its legality is worked out in the courts — a decision that prompted the town to delay the ban’s enactment.

The plaintiff, George’s Towing & Recovery, now has until early July to ask the state Supreme Court to hear the case.

Most council members agreed the town should have little trouble enforcing the towing restrictions.

“Regulating towing seems to me a straightforward, municipal authority and it’s confined to our city limits,” said council member Sally Greene. “With the (cellphone) ordinance, we are stepping out there.”

Council members also advanced an educational campaign to inform residents about the cellphone ban when it takes effect.

At the meeting, several town residents voiced support for the ordinance.

Resident Joe Capowski said the ban, the first of its kind in the state, could be an example to other towns.

“Cellphone driving is a national public health issue, and I am proud that Chapel Hill is a leader in it,” Capowski said. “We ought to be a leader — we need to be a leader. We have 29,000 students here that grew up with cellphones.”

Penny Rich, an Orange County commissioner and former Town Council member, said the ban represents an issue of town autonomy.

“Every municipality in North Carolina wins because we in Chapel Hill decided to be leaders and fight for the right to decide how our town is run,” Rich said.

The council eventually voted 7-to-1 to move the enactment date to October. Council member Matt Czajkowski declined to support advancing the ban over concerns that it would be ineffective.

The council also addressed several other issues at Monday’s meeting:

• Members heard Town Manager Roger Stancil’s response to a petition that would move the authority to fire town employees from his office to the town’s Personnel Appeals Committee. While the town claims legally firing responsibilities must stay with the town manager, Stancil said his office is working to provide the committee with greater resources.

• The council passed an ordinance to ban smoking in all town-owned vehicles, replacing a previous rule that allowed smoking if all passengers in the car agreed to it.

• The council heard recommendations on bicycle and pedestrian improvements along Old Durham-Chapel Hill Road.

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