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Missoula Bans Use of Cellphones While Driving

cell phone driver
Photo courtesy of Jim Legans, Jr/Flickr

In a 10-to-one decision on November 5, the Missoula City Council affirmed a ban on the use of cellphones while driving, becoming the last of Montana’s major cities to issue the ban.

View city council decision.

City council members Ed Childers, Dick Haines, Bob Jaffe, Marilyn Marler, Mike O’Herron, Dave Strohmaier, Alex Taft, Jason Wiener, Jon Wilkins, and Cynthia Woken all voted in support of the ordinance. Adam Hertz offered the only dissenting vote.

The official motion prohibits “the use of mobile telephones and other electronic communication devices while simultaneously operating a motor vehicle, bicycle or any other device defined as a vehicle in Montana Code Annotated, Title 61, Part 1 on a public highway and providing for penalties and certain exceptions.”

The penalties under the new decision involve a minimum $100 fine for a first offense, as well a $350 fine for an accident in which a cell phone is found to have been used at the time of a crash.

Penalties for driving while using a cellphone in Missoula:

  • The minimum penalty for a first offense shall be $100 which may not be suspended or waived up to a maximum of $5,300
  • The minimum penalty for a second or subsequent offense occurring within a twelve-month time period of any prior cell phone ordinance offense shall be $150 which may not be suspended or waived up to a maximum of $500;
  • If any vehicle crash investigation determines that a cell phone was in use by a vehicle operator involved in the crash at the time the crash occurred, the minimum fine shall be $350 which may not be suspended or waived up to a maximum of $500;

Exceptions to the law include the use of “hands free devices” as well as the use of a cellphone while a vehicle is not in gear or by passengers in a vehicle.

“This provision shall not apply to persons using or powering on a ‘hands-free device.’ A ‘hands-free device’ is an external device that connects to a wireless telephone, wireless communications device or electronic communications device that allows use of the device without touching the telephone or wireless or electronic communications device with one’s hands, and includes voice-activated technologies that can be utilized without touching the device. Use of a hands-free device is permitted while operating a motor vehicle provided the driver does not touch the wireless telephone or wireless or electronic communications device with one’s hands while operating a motor vehicle.”

The new ban technically takes effect in 30 days, however, law enforcement officers are only supposed to issue warnings for the first 90 days.

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