On June 1st, drivers in Chapel Hill, NC will have to hang up their hands-free headsets. A narrowly-passed ordinance makes Chapel Hill the first city nationwide to ban not only texting and use of a handset while driving, but also hands-free systems that are ostensibly less distracting. Despite this, the strict ban includes several loopholes that seem to undermine it: drivers can still make emergency calls, for example, and can talk to a spouse, parent, or child. These exceptions have led to some complaints. Council member Laurin Easthom, who voted against the measure, said that "basically what this ordinance says to me is that it’s not safe to drive and talk on a cellphone, but it’s safe if you’re talking to a family member." And Chapel Hill's Police Chief said that the law would be difficult to enforce because it would require searching drivers' phones.
Others, however, saw this as a step towards more comprehensive safety measures. Ed Harrison, who cast the deciding vote, is a cyclist who said he's faced problems with distracted drivers before. "[It] is not by people who are eating things or combing their hair or putting on lipstick," he said. "It’s by people who are talking on a cellphone and not seeing me."
Like other talking or texting bans, this ordinance is a secondary offense, which means that a driver can't be pulled over unless they're breaking another traffic law. If a driver is pulled over while using the phone, they could be subject to a $25 fine. However, it's possible that the city won't have the authority to enforce the ban. Last year, the State Assistant Attorney General said that towns did not have the right to pass laws when the state already had a framework in place — in this case, cellphone limits for minors and a ban on texting.