HELENA – Montana could become one of a half-dozen states to ban the use of cell phones while driving, under a proposal pitched to lawmakers Friday.
Supporters said that driving while talking on a cell phone is too dangerous, and are advocating a bill that also bans sending text messages while driving. It would not apply to driving in rural areas, on highways outside city limits or on the interstate highways.
“The problem of cell phone use while driving I don’t believe needs an awful lot of explanation,” said the plan’s sponsor, Rep. Bob Lake of Hamilton.
The Republican said he plans to carve out exemptions for the use of handheld two-way radios used by law enforcement, truckers and others. Licensed amateur radio operators are also seeking an exemption.
Lake said there have been far too many crashes caused by inattentive drivers who are distracted by using cell phones.
The Montana Highway Patrol said crashes related to cell phones are increasing.
Many opponents said their opposition would go away if Lake can get his amendments added to the bill that would exempt emergency radios, and allow for “handsfree” use of a cell phone.
Cell-phone company Alltel Wireless said it was withholding judgment on the bill until it sees the amendments formally added into Lake’s proposal.
Lobbyist Margaret Morgan said the company also thinks it’s important to point out that many forms of “distracted driving” are dangerous. She said studies have found crashes linked to drivers distracted while talking to backseat passengers or distractions caused by roadside attractions.
“Perhaps that is something to think about before we have statewide bans on just one type of distracted driving,” Morgan said.
The House Transportation Committee didn’t take immediate action on the bill.
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