Committee Considers Cell Phone Ban While Driving

By Beacon Staff

HELENA, Mont. – State lawmakers considered a proposal Thursday to ban cell phone use while driving in Montana, except for the use of hands-free devices such as headsets.

The Senate Highways and Transportation Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 251, which would levy a $100 fine for using a cell phone to text or talk while driving. The infraction would not go against the driver’s record.

Democratic Rep. Christine Kaufmann of Helena, the bill’s sponsor, called distracted driving an epidemic in the state.

“That’s how you prevent it, to allow law enforcement to stop the accident,” she told the committee.

The bill provides for exceptions, including operators of emergency vehicles, tow trucks, construction vehicles and two-way radios.

Cell phone and insurance companies, as well as law enforcement and driving organizations, support the bill, saying phone use while driving is a major cause of accidents.

Supporters also include representatives from the city of Billings, where an ordinance banning cell phone use while driving within city limits is in effect. The Billings officials said their legislation has resulted in a significant reduction in dangerous driving.

The Montana Libertarian Party opposed the bill, with chairman Mike Fellows questioning whether cell phones play an important role in vehicle accidents and the need to enact this type of legislation.

At the hearing, questions were raised about how police officers could enforce the ban and about the lack of effectiveness of bans in other states.

Similar legislation sponsored by Kaufmann during the last legislative session failed to get out of committee. This time, though, Kaufmann said she has the support of key Republicans.

If it passes, Montana would join Washington, D.C., and eight states that have handheld cell phone bans, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Thirty-eight states, as well as Guam and D.C., have legislation related to texting and 10, including Montana, have no statewide laws regarding cell phone use when driving.

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