Judge delays implementation of Chapel Hill cell phone ban - WNCN: News, Weather

Judge delays implementation of Chapel Hill cell phone ban

By Steve Sbraccia And Jake Seaton

A superior court judge issued an injunction delaying a ban on the use of cell phones while driving in Chapel Hill. The judge also delayed the implementation of a new towing ordinance.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson issued the injunction Wednesday after reviewing a complaint from George's Towing & Recovery, in which the company argued the new towing ordinance would require the use of a cell phone in company vehicles.

“It would actually restrict our business to where we couldn’t do business,” said towing company owner George King.

“We felt like on both counts the ordinances were improper and shouldn’t be enforced, so we applied to the court for a T.R.O. said King’s attorney Thomas Stark.

In issuing his temporary restraining order, Judge Hudson said King “had a very strong likelihood of success on the merits” of the case.

King’s says his towing operation to take illegally parked cars off private property requires constant contact with his drivers, and a cell phone is the only way to accomplish that.

“When the guy’s in the truck, he actually uses that cell phone and if anything were to go wrong, we constantly stay in communication with each other,” said King.

The restraining order took Chapel Hill officials by surprise; they had no idea it was coming.

Town attorney Ralph Karpinos said,” The town was not represented in court at the time the temporary restraining order was entered.”

Meanwhile, King’s lawyer contends the town has no right to impose those kinds of restrictions.

“The state didn’t delegate to Chapel Hill the authority to regulate cell phones,” said attorney Thomas Stark.

Previously, the state attorney general's office sent a letter to the town advising it that Chapel Hill did not have the authority to enact such an ordinance.

"The State has preemptive authority to regulate the use of mobile phones by motorists within the State of North Carolina," Assistant Attorney General Jess D. Mekeel said.
But, around Chapel Hill some think the town should control what happens on its streets.

“I think the town has the right to say no,” said John Harless who favors the ban.

“I think its OK for the town of Chapel Hill to be taking care of it because they’re going to deal with the repercussions of accidents based on people using cell phones while they are driving,” said Elena Sanchez who also favors the ban.

Judge Hudson scheduled a hearing to review both issues on May 7th.

Attorney Karpinos said the town will "have an opportunity to appear at that time and respond at a hearing on a preliminary injunction concerning these matters."

The Chapel Hill Town Council voted in March to ban all use of cell phones while driving and imposed a $125 dollar fine for violators.

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