It May Soon Be a Crime to Hold a Wireless Device While Driving In North Carolina
It may soon be a crime to drive while using a hand-held communication device in North Carolina. State lawmakers discussed the new legislation, known as “Hands Free NC Act,” on February 27, and the bill imposes fines and insurance points onto drivers who are convicted of talking on their cell phones while driving; amongst engaging in a number of other activities that may seem benign.
With the exception of bus drivers and anyone under the age of 18, the state currently does not place any real restrictions on drivers’ ability to talk on their phones while driving. Law enforcement can only stop a driver who is holding their phone if it is ancillary to a violation such as speeding or failing to wear a seatbelt. However, the new law would change that.
A Broadly Worded Law
The bill is arguably broadly worded such that GPS devices, smart watches, and a number of other devices are covered under it. It explicitly makes it unlawful to use a “wireless communication device” in any public areas, such as public highways, streets, or other vehicular areas; while carving out exceptions for emergency situations such as medical concerns and matters of public safety, and for emergency workers, such as law enforcement officers, EMTs, and members of the fire department. It also does not cover activity in a vehicle that is pulled off to the side of the road when that vehicle is stationary.
However, it does still cover a broad range of activities such that motorists could not only be pulled over for interacting with their devices to text, for example, but any activity that involves reading and even pressing a single button. In fact, according to the current wording of the bill, simply having a wireless communication device in your hand is covered as “prohibited conduct.”
Is This Unconstitutional?
North Carolina previously tried to pass a similar law in 2012; however, the state Supreme Court struck it down. In that case, it was the Town of Chapel Hill that enacted an ordinance prohibiting drivers from using phones while operating vehicles in motion on public streets. The law was successfully challenged as going beyond the jurisdiction of a locality, as the state Supreme Court found that state law and the General Assembly’s enactment of a number of other (although dissimilar) statutory provisions to reduce the dangers associated with driving while using your phone preempted any municipal restrictions, even if they were completely different, because it was the intent of the state legislature to provide a complete and integrated regulatory scheme to the exclusion of local regulations.
Contact Our North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you have been charged with a driving crime in North Carolina, contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Dysart Willis today to find out how we can best defend you.