Whitefish Approves Hand-Held Cell Phone Ban

By Beacon Staff

On June 20, the Whitefish City Council unanimously gave final approval to an ordinance banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving within city limits.

The ban, which applies to both motorists and bicyclists, will take effect on Sept. 20 to allow time for people to learn about the law and obtain hands-free technology, such as Bluetooth headsets or earpieces. Speakerphones are also allowed. City Manager Chuck Stearns said hands-free devices can be purchased cheaply.

Other hand-held communication devices will also be banned, including GPS systems. Texting on cell phones is prohibited as well.

The law applies to people within city limits who are “operating a motor vehicle, motorcycle, quadricycle, or a bicycle on a public highway.”

City officials will take steps to educate the public about the law and place informational signs at the town’s entrances. Verbal warnings will likely be offered at first. The ordinance allows for a $100 fine for first-time offenses and $300 for each repeat offense.

Some council members have said they would prefer the state to take on the issue, but the last session of the Montana Legislature failed to produce any statewide laws. In response, City Attorney Mary VanBuskirk said several Montana cities began considering their own ordinances.

Whitefish’s law is modeled after an ordinance in Billings. Butte also has a similar law, while Missoula bans texting while driving a car or riding a bike. The Whitefish City Council passed the law’s first reading on June 6 and then approved the second reading on June 20 at its regularly scheduled meeting.

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.”

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