Published: Feb 19, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Feb 17, 2012 06:22 PM
CHAPEL HILL - You can weigh in Monday on a proposal to ban talking on a cellphone while driving.
The Chapel Hill Town Council is considering a proposal to ban hand-held phone calls or both hand-held and hands-free calls while driving. The ordinance would apply to all streets town-wide, including state-owned roads.
The council previously looked at banning talking on the phone while driving on town-owed roads, but council members said that would confuse drivers because many main roads in Chapel Hill such as Franklin Street are state-owned.
Those caught talking on the phone while driving would be fined $25. Exceptions would be made for emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, health care provider or emergency room.
Former council member Joe Capowski asked for the ban last year, but the town deferred as the state considered a ban. Chapel Hill would be the first town in North Carolina to enact such a ban.
Texting while driving is currently illegal in North Carolina.
Karen Turner's brother was killed in August 2010 by a driver who was texting behind the wheel. Turner, who lives in Asheville, supports banning all cellphone use while driving and plans to tell her brother's story to the council Monday night.
Joel Severson, 39, was on his way to work on his motorcycle when he was hit from behind by a pickup truck on Interstate 40, outside Asheville. Severson's bike was initially wedged in the grill of the truck, but he was thrown onto the road after the truck driver braked, Turner said.
As he tried to move off the road, he was hit by an 18-wheeler, which caused massive head trauma, she said.
The pickup truck driver was on his way to Chapel Hill and was texting while driving, she said. Now she wants to change the law.
"It's got to start somewhere and people need to understand that it could happen to anyone," she said. "We've got the information, but we're just ignoring the data that's been published about the safety. It's just dangerous. ... Talking on a cellphone and driving is as bad as drinking and driving."
In December the driver of the vehicle that hit Severson was convicted of death by motor vehicle and sentenced to 18 months of probation. It was the first case to be prosecuted since the state banned texting while driving.
"With that kind of punishment, there's no bite to this law," she said. "Until people start making some changes we're going to continue to see people get killed or maimed."