North Carolina drivers are facing a new law that, if passed, would make it illegal to talk on the phone while driving. There are a few caveats to the law, but even with those exceptions built in, the law would still be far stricter than it currently is. Many North Carolinians are concerned that some vague language in the law would be problematic for drivers. Others are in support of the law as it’s currently written. Here, we’ll take a look at North Carolina’s HB 144 and see what it’s all about and what it could mean for drivers.
HB 144 would impose a fine of $100 if a person is convicted of talking on the phone while driving. If a person is convicted a second time within 36 months (2 ½ years), they would have to pay a $150 fine and would also have one insurance point assessed by the North Carolina Rate Bureau. The law itself would go into effect in 2020 if it passed. In order to pass, the law has to be approved by the house, the senate, and the governor of the state. It’s unclear as to whether or not the bill is likely to pass, but many North Carolina drivers are keeping a close eye on the matter.
As clear as the law seems to be about its stance against not talking on the phone while driving, there are some exceptions built in. For example, you can still talk on the phone if your car is parked. Drivers over 18 years old could use their phones if it is “affixed, mounted, or installed” — in other words, if it’s hands free and somehow attached to the vehicle. Additionally, the phone or device would have to allow for single-button answering, ending, and initiation of any call, so if you have to flip through your phone for a contact or manually enter the digits, that isn’t allowed. Finally, you can use your phone in an emergency situation, if there are unsafe road conditions, if you need mechanical help, or if you are a first responder or an emergency medical professional of some kinds.
Talking and driving isn’t the only action that the law seeks to change behavior on. North Carolina law already requires drivers to move over when the come up to a police, paramedic, or fire vehicle if their emergency lights are activated. However, this bill would stiffen the penalties for failing to do so. As it stands, if you break this law it’s a minor infraction. If HB 144 passes, it would be a misdemeanor crime, and if your failure to heed emergency lights caused injury or death, you would be charged with a felony.
Some people are concerned that ambiguities in the law make it difficult to know exactly how HB 144 would impact North Carolina drivers. For instance, what constitutes dangerous road conditions? How is an emergency defined? Can you only contact emergency medical services during an emergency, or can you also contact family or friends who might need to be aware? Many questions have gone unanswered or simply aren’t addressed in the law, and that has given some residents cause for concern. Some fear that those ambiguities will lead to well-meaning drivers who believe they’re following the law being fined.
It’s expected that residents of North Carolina will have to wait for quite some time before they find out whether or not the bill has passed. However, key lawmakers are hopeful that it will and that distracted driving-related accidents and the impeding of emergency vehicles will decrease as a result. Ambiguities aside, many people feel that reducing accidents and injuries due to talking and driving and failure to obey emergency lights is a good objective. However, the full impact of the law will probably not be completely understood until the law has been in effect for quite some time.
If you’ve been charged with distracted driving in North Carolina, it’s important that you have an attorney on your side who can help you navigate the legal waters. Defending yourself and ensuring that you obtain the best possible results can only be done with competent legal representation. Contact a qualified and experienced North Carolina traffic attorney today and make sure you’re protected. It’s the best way to make sure you’re exercising your legal rights to the fullest extent.