On June 6, the Whitefish City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance banning hand-held cell phone usage while operating motor vehicles in an effort to reduce the number of distracted drivers on the city’s roadways.
The council will vote on the ordinance’s second reading at a June 20 public meeting. The public will be able speak at the beginning of the meeting during citizen comments. If approved, the ban takes effect 90 days later on Sept. 20.
Only hand-held devices are subject to the ban, with texting included. Talking with a hands-free device, whether with a cord or wireless, would still be permitted.
Two people spoke at the June 6 meeting, both in favor, according to City Manager Chuck Stearns. Stearns encourages the public to show up at the June 20 meeting, which begins at 7:10 p.m. at City Hall.
“If they object to this or support this, come out on June 20,” Stearns said. “I think the council is very interested in hearing people’s opinions on this.”
In a report to council, City Attorney Mary VanBuskirk explained the rationale for the ordinance. Council had directed VanBuskirk to draft a proposal in May.
“The use of electronic devices while driving has come under growing scrutiny, as studies have shown a clear connection between inattentive driving caused by the use of
electronic devices and motor vehicle accidents,” her report states. “The use of hand held electronic devices while driving is increasing.”
VanBuskirk said the Montana Legislature did not to address the issue of cell phones in cars, which has prompted several cities to consider their own ordinances. Whitefish’s ban is modeled after an ordinance in Billings. Butte also has a similar law, while Missoula has a ban on texting while driving a car or riding a bike.
Violators of the ban in Whitefish will be assessed a fine of $100 for the first offense and $300 for repeat offenses, though VanBuskirk said the penalties are subject to the discretion of the court.
Also, Stearns anticipates that police, who support the ban, will issue warnings in the beginning. The council, Stearns said, has emphasized the importance of educating the public on the issue.
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