Chapel Hill attempted banning the use of cell phones while driving in 2012, state now taking on the issue

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Retired UNC faculty member Joe Capowski was on the Chapel Hill town council more than five years ago when he says he witnessed UNC student Krista Slough being struck by someone using a cell phone.

"A little red car comes down the street at a very high rate of speed, drives straight into Krista, does not slow down, makes no attempt to swerve to avoid her, knocks Krista 18 feet into the OWASA ditch," Capowski said.

Capowski helped pass a town ordinance in 2012 banning the use of cell phones while driving, but it was later struck down by the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Capowski hopes North Carolina finally passes a handsfree cell phone law, now that lawmakers are considering House Bill 144, the Hands-Free North Carolina Act. It would make it illegal to use a handheld cell phone while driving, except under emergency situations.

"I think it would be a wonderful step," Capowski said. "A lot of other states are considering these now. Even some conservative states have adopted them."

Krista Ung added, "I believe this bill would like North Carolina roads to be safer for everyone."

What this bill does is make it much easier for the police to regulate the use of telephones by drivers.

Republican representative John Torbett, of Gaston County, is a sponsor of the bill, which has bipartisan support.

"Fatalities are still on the rise and we hear from local law enforcement that often times they find a cell phone on the floor or they find a cell phone in the middle of a text conversation...obviously we need to step in and do something," Rep. Torbett said. "We're losing way too many lives out there."

George King, owner of George's Towing and Recovery in Chapel Hill, challenged the town's ordinance in court. He spoke to ABC11 Tuesday.

He still appears to oppose this type of legislation, saying a lot of people like to hold their cell phones and that holding a Bluetooth or headset is similar to using a handheld cell phone.

When asked about the enforcement, Rep. Torbett said, "It, like a lot of stuff, would be difficult to enforce but that's left to the hands of professional law enforcement officers."

The Raleigh and Chapel Hill Police Departments declined to comment about the enforcement, saying the bill is not yet law but rather proposed legislation.

For more information on the bill, click here.
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