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Chapel Hill’s cell-phone ban, hand-held and hands-free. Joe Capowski Chapel Hill, NC Poli 718 Agenda Setting UNC February 5, 2014. Sept 16, 2010. I witnessed Krista’s accident Driver did not slow or swerve, told 911 “I did not see the girl”

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Chapel Hill’s cell-phone ban,

hand-held and hands-free

Joe Capowski

Chapel Hill, NC

Poli 718 Agenda Setting


February 5, 2014


Sept 16, 2010

I witnessed Krista’s accident

Driver did not slow or swerve,

told 911 “I did not see the girl”

Krista suffered brain hemorrhages,

graduated 2 years late with poorer grades,

wants to make accidents less likely for others

in the next nine months
In the next nine months

We addressed NC legislature about two hand-held-ban bills, saw no possibility

Researched the science and safety statistics; only a complete ban was scientifically and intellectually sound

June, 2011, asked Chapel Hill Town Council to start the process to do a complete ban.

why were we successful
Why were we successful?

What did we do?

What worked?

What failed?

What would we do differently?

What has happened since the ban passed?

learn state town legal relations
Learn state-town legal relations

Ownership of roads in town: NC and CH

CH Atty: Town can ban phones on town roads, never tested on state roads, will

eventually go to court when a violator sues

learn current state laws
Learn current state laws

In NC today:

Texting ban for all drivers

Cell-phone ban for special populations

This is slightly below average in the U.S.

learn legislator mindset funding
Learn legislator mindset, funding

NC recently changed to very Republican

Cell-phone laws should not be partisan, but very much are

Auto dealer and telecom PACS very strong

Legislators are heavy phone users

legislator mindset funding cont d
Legislator mindset, funding, cont'd

From many NC legislators:

“As long as my hands are on the wheel and my eyes are on the road, I’m a safe driver”

Science is not on legislators' radar screens

Absent a tragedy, NC legislature will not help and may indeed hinder

choose a battle you can win
Choose a battle you can win

Chapel Hill is consummate liberal college town

World-class center of education and health care

5 major hospitals

College students 1st gen to grow up with phones

Go Tarheels!

work with media
Work with media

Human story that televises beautifully; media want to cover it

Krista and I wrote editorials

Repeatedly interview with all media

Be prepared with five short sound bites

5 TV cameras at council discussions

learn the opponents
Learn the Opponents

We thought heavy-use professions would oppose: Realtors, builders, soccer moms

They didn’t

At council hearings, no one spoke against

Newspaper editorials, radio commentaries, letters to editor, all 2-1 in favor

refute the arguments against
Refute the arguments against

Difficult to enforce

Police chief involved from start, will do it

Community expectation, others also enforce

No town authority on state roads

Still to be tested in court

find allies ask for help
Find allies, ask for help

UNC Chancellor strong supporter, therefore

help from UNC media and UNC Police

UNC Hospitals

UNC School of Public Health

UNC Highway Safety Research Center

AAA Carolinas

Performance BMW dealership

Car insurance agents

start an education campaign
Start an education campaign

Kickoff event was a driving simulator at UNC,

one week before council public hearing

TV reporters drove, reported on news how

they did poorly while on phone.

50 people drove, same poor results w/ phone

New UNC Football coach: "I was terrible"

money not an issue
Money not an issue

Only expense was simulator ($1500), easily

found four sponsors

find a champion on the council
Find a champion on the council

Penny Rich

Met regularly, shared ideas

connect the scientific dots
Connect the scientific dots

inattention blindness (phone call harms vision)

accident risk of driving behaviors

BAC in number of beers

inattention blindness
Inattention blindness

Visual processing in high-level brain regions is inhibited in proportion to the complexity of a simultaneous auditory task

Therefore, talking on a phone reduces what you see through the windshield. Listening to the radio, a simpler task, does not.

Source: Vicki Chanon, Ph.D., UNC Dept of Psychology

inattention blindness cont d
Inattention blindness, cont'd

Hard to convince driver that his vision is reduced because he sincerely thinks that he sees everything. In reality, he doesn't know what he is missing, until he hits her, him, or it.

Talking with passenger not harmful because passenger participates in driving, knows when to be quiet.

alcohol consumption measures
Alcohol consumption measures

Simple Rule:

For a 160-lb person, BAC = .02 per beer minus .01 per hour.

So for me to lift my BAC to 0.10, I must drink a six pack in two hours.

Source: UNC Alcohol studies program

with these 3 together we asked
With these 3 together, we asked

Would you drink a six-pack and then drive?

Of course not.

Then why would you do the equivalent i.e., drive while on the phone?

and we could argue
And we could argue

You may disagree with a cell-phone ban, but there are only two ways to disagree:

You may reject the science, but as more and more studies confirm it, you look like a tobacco executive rejecting the cigarette-cancer link. (powerful in NC)


argument cont d
Argument cont'd

You may accept the science, but hold that something else is more important, e.g., efficient use of your time, profits for your company.

In that case I ask you to describe one phone call you have made from your car that is so important that it justifies endangering the lives of others to the same extent that a drunk driver does.

finally we stated
Finally, we stated

To the Chapel Hill Town Council:

If there is one town council in NC that should follow the science, it is you all.


Chapel Hill's fine is too low, $25 and does not accelerate

The offense is secondary, police stop requires some other issue

Patterned after existing state laws to minimize chance of state override.

unanticipated court challenge
Unanticipated court challenge

May 2012, towing co. sues CH saying that towing regs and cell-phone ban together form an unconstitutional town regulation of commerce.

Aug 2012, District court judge agrees, strikes down both laws

Mar 2013, Town appeals with help from NC

League of Municipalities.

court challenge cont d
Court challenge, cont’d

June 2013, NC Court of Appeals unanimously (3-0) overturns district court, re-instates both laws.

June 2013, towing company asks NC Supreme Court to review case.

Nov 2013, Supreme Court agrees to hear case.

Today, arguments before court not yet scheduled. Decision perhaps in 2014.

Cell-phone ban not in effect today.

and the beat goes on
And the beat goes on

When cell-phone ban is implemented, we expect a violator to sue, saying that town has no authority to ban phones on state roads. Result to be determined.

NC legislature may pass law preempting town regulation of electronic devices in vehicles, as in FL, LA, KY, MS, OK


The distracted-driving compromise

Connectivity for drivers

Joe Capowski

Chapel Hill, NC

February, 2014

auto connectivity compromise
Auto Connectivity Compromise

Car and telecom companies are willing to sacrifice profits from texting and hand-held phone use.

----- provided that ------

They can sell hands-free, voice-controlled hardware and services for drivers

They say that their customers, especially their younger ones, demand this.

bmw ad


lethal ad from bmw
Lethal ad from BMW



Ford ad

Source: Road & Track, Dec 2013/Jan 2014, pg 27

quotes from the ford ad
Quotes from the Ford Ad

Your apps are just a voice command away

You’ll have hands-free, voice-activated control of a wide range of compatible apps.

Source: Road & Track, Dec 2013/Jan 2014, pg 27

how do you get feedback
How do you get feedback?

Have you ever used a touchpad without looking at some sort of display screen?

chevrolet ad
Chevrolet ad



gm news february 2013
GM News, February, 2013

"The Chevy Sonic and Spark are the first vehicles to offer Siri Eyes Free integration," said Cristi Landy, Chevrolet marketing director for small cars. “Safe, easy, reliable and portable connectivity is a top priority for our customers, and Siri complements MyLink's existing capabilities to help deliver an incredible driving experience."


bbc news quote jan 2013
BBC news quote, Jan 2013

This past November, GM announced that Siri, Apple's heavily touted (if questionably functional) virtual assistant, will integrate with Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system


lethal like cigarettes
Lethal, like cigarettes

The car companies are knowingly selling a lethal product – just like cigarettes.

They are “lawyered up”.

disclaimer from ford ad
Disclaimer from Ford Ad

Source: Road & Track, Dec 2013/Jan 2014, pg 27

Don’t drive while distracted

Even with voice commands, only use phones or other devices when safe.

wchl radio chapel hill
WCHL Radio, Chapel Hill

At every traffic report, Ran Northam asks that if you see some situation, be a road warrior and call us or tweet us, but we ask that you do it safely.

editor in chief larry webster
Editor-in-chief Larry Webster

Source: Road & Track, Dec 2013/Jan 2014, pg 26

larry webster quotes
Larry Webster quotes

Voice commands have long been touted as a cure for the distraction of infotainment systems.

Anyone piloting a car should concentrate solely on driving.

The connectedness genie is out of the bottle – all the swerving, eyes-down drivers you see on the highway are proof.

just like cigarettes and cancer
Just like cigarettes and cancer

This issue will track like cigarettes and cancer. Car and telecom companies will fight government regulation until the science overwhelms them and the lawsuits from the families of victims begin.

cigarette ceos at congress april 1994
Cigarette CEOs at Congress April 1994

Click in Box to play 15-sec video

cigarette ceos at u s house
Cigarette CEOs at U.S. House

All 7: I believe that nicotene is not addictive

the government s role
The government’s role

The U.S. Dept of Transportation will avoid regulating connectivity until many people have been killed and injured.

u s dept of transportation
U.S. Dept of Transportation

Ray LaHood, former

secretary, speaking

against cell-phone

use while driving.

But dodged questions

about new car

infotainment systems.

Nov 13, 2012, Tampa

u s dept of transportation1
U.S. Dept of Transportation

Anthony Foxx, current

Secretary, has followed

LaHood’s agenda, but

has not taken a

position on new car

infotainment systems,

other than to “work with”

the car companies.

national transportation safety board
National Transportation Safety Board

Chairman Deborah

Hersman takes a very

strong position against

driver connectivity.

BUT, the NTSB is

independent from the

DOT and can only make


ntsb position
NTSB position

“just this morning the AAA released innovative research on cognitive distraction that found that hands-free PED

[Portable Electronic Devices] use is just as risky as handheld use.”

Chairman Hersman letter to Chapel Hill Mayor Kleinschmidt, June 12, 2013

rosenberger s main thesis
Rosenberger’s main thesis

Legislators ignore science and restrict texting and hand-held phone use, but not hands-free use. Hence they promote the safety of hands-free use.

This completely agrees with my experience, and I would add that legislators badly want to use their phones while they drive.

the car s role
The car’s role

The car is not independent. It serves as a display, loudspeaker, and microphone for a smartphone that is synchronized with it.

The display is designed to attract the driver’s eye. This is dangerous and this is stupid.

Most states prohibit a video screen that the driver can see. The law lags technology.

google glass
Google Glass

Display, speaker, touchpad, and microphone for a smartphone.

Awesome potential as apps are written, but another lethal distraction for a driver.

san diego oct 29 2013
San Diego, Oct 29, 2013

Driver pulled for speeding and cited for wearing Google Glass while driving.

Basis of citation was that GG violates California’s video-display-seen-by-driver prohibition, not the state’s hand-held cell-phone ban.

Jan 16, 2013, court threw out citation because officer could not show that GG was turned on.

The law is far behind the technology.

follow the money
Follow the money

Who wins? The car and telecom companies

Who loses? The insurance companies

Why don’t insurance companies contract with customers that if someone causes an accident while on the phone, they pay only the victim’s expenses?


Are distracted driving laws partisan?

Joe Capowski

Chapel Hill, NC

February, 2013

they shouldn t be
They shouldn’t be

Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives all have accidents.

On the next few slides, I’ll show whether state’s distracted driving laws are partisan.


Quality of each state’s laws, details to follow

29 Red states, 57% of pop

21 Blue states, 43% of pop


The Red-Blue decision

I researched the majority party of each state’s house, senate and governor after the 2012 elections. If two or more were red (blue), I called the state red (blue).

Detail: Nebraska has a non-partisan unicameral legislature, and a

Republican governor. I called Nebraska Red.



I Graded each state’s legislation

I scored

2 pts for an all-drivers hand-held ban

1 pt for an all-drivers texting ban

1 pt for any specific pop (e.g., bus drivers) cell-phone ban

0.5 pt for texting ban on only specific pop (only MO)

-0.5 pt for local govt preemption (FL, KY, MS, LA, OK)

I assigned letter grades from the total points for each state

3 pts equals B 1 pt equals D

2.5 B- 0.5 D-

2 C 0 F

1.5 C- -0.5 F-

Source for each state’s legislation:


Why did no state get an A?

Because no state recognizes that the danger

from a hands-free call equals that of a hand-held

phone call, as shown on the next slide. I look

forward to celebrating the first state to pass a

hand-held and hands-free ban.

In the meantime, I get sick every time I hear a

legislator say “As long as my hands are on the

wheel and my eyes are on the road, I’m safe”.



Distracted driving laws are very partisan

Blue states restrict more

Party Sts Total Pts Mean Letter

Red 29 36.5 1.26 D+

Blue 21 47.5 2.26 C+

All 50 84.0 1.68 C-


State-by-state data, page 1

State Party Pts Grade

ME D 2 C

NH D 1 D

VT D 2 C

MA D 2 C

RI D 2 C

CT D 3 B

NY D 3 B

NJ D 3 B

PA R 1 D

DE D 3 B

MD D 3 B

VA R 2 C

WV D 3 B

NC R 2 C

SC R 0 F

GA R 2 C

FL R -.5 F-

State Party Pts Grade

MI R 1 D

IN R 2 C

OH R 2 C

KY D 1.5 C-

TN R 2 C

AL R 2 C

MS R 0.5 D-

WI R 2 C

IL D 2 C

MN D 2 C

IA R 2 C

MO R 0.5 D-

AR R 2 C

LA R 1.5 C-

ND R 2 C

SD R 0 F

NE R 2 C


State-by-state data, page 2

State Party Pts Grade

KS R 2 C

OK R 0.5 D-

TX R 1 D

MT R 0 F

WY R 1 D

ID R 1 D

CO D 2 C

UT R 1 D

NM D 1 D

AZ R 1 D

WA D 3 B

OR D 3 B

NV D 3 B

CA D 3 B

HI D 0 F

AK R 1 D

bullpen 2
Bullpen 2

Bullpen 2