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Monday January 24th

NC Supreme Court strikes down Chapel Hill's cell phone ban

<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.

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled the town of Chapel Hill does not have the authority to enforce an ordinance prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving. 

The ruling came after the ordinance was overturned by the Superior Court in Aug. 2012, a decision the town appealed. 

The Supreme Court's decision is the result of a challenge by George King, owner of George's Towing and Recovery. 

King argued the ordinance conflicted with another ordinance requiring tow truck drivers to notify police 15 minutes before towing a vehicle. The decision covered not only the cell phone ban but also the ability of the town to regulate towing companies. 

A summary from the town's attorney, Ralph Karpinos, said the Supreme Court only affirmed part of the town's towing ordinance, but completely overturned the cell phone ordinance. 

The ruling struck down certain parts of the town's towing ordinance — saying the town does not have the authority to impose fee schedules or limits on towing companies, nor do they have the authority to ban towing companies from charging customers for paying towing fees with credit or debit cards.

Council member Lee Storrow said he was for the cell phone ordinance, and he said he was disappointed by the decision to overturn it. 

"I did think we had some compelling evidence from members of the public that driving while on the phone is a public health issue," he said. 

Attorney Thomas Stark, King's representative, said the decision was an important holding on the town's limitations. He said he agreed with the balance of the decision. 

"We're pleased," he said. "It's a well-reasoned decision." 

Storrow said the towing ordinances were put in place to prevent what is known as predatory towing, where towing companies tow legally parked vehicles or charge excessive fees. 

He said he was happy with the court's towing decision though, as it still helps prevent these practices. 

Storrow said the best plan of action for the town moving forward was to comply with the Supreme Court and speak to Karpinos about future plans. 

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