It’ll cost you a Ben Franklin, maybe more.

Missoula’s ban on driving with a cellphone in hand goes into full effect Tuesday, Feb. 5, and the penalty if you get caught is at least $100, possibly as high as $300. Busted a second time in the same year? You’re out $150, at least, and maybe as much as $500.

But guess what? You have options to get around it. The workarounds run from free to cheap to get-me-a-sugar-momma.

So far, the ban has been in its educational phase, where police issue warnings instead of citations. Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir said officers handed out 28 warnings in the month of December, and as daylight increases, he anticipates the number of tickets will go up.

“It won’t surprise me to see us issue maybe a couple hundred a month,” Muir said.

Councilman Dave Strohmaier, who pushed the ban for years, often walks downtown, and he hasn’t seen a perceptible drop in the number of people talking on their phones and driving in the initial phase of the prohibition.

“I continue to see folks pulling bonehead maneuvers downtown while turning corners talking on a cellphone or sitting at stoplights downtown,” Strohmaier said. “So my hope would be, come Tuesday, with the opportunity to send a little stronger message to people, we might see a significant reduction.”

A recent observational survey of some 10,000 cars showed an estimated 5 percent of drivers on handheld cellphones, according to the police chief. The department will use the number as a benchmark for a similar study in one year.


Here are ways you can steer clear of a ticket.

1. Free

Here’s something to consider: You don’t have to answer your phone in the car. Yes, multiple sources confirm that’s the case.

Here’s another way to avoid a ticket: Pull over to the side of the road.

The Missoulian left a voicemail for city traffic services engineer Wayne Gravatt, and Gravatt returned the call just moments later.

“I had to pull over in accordance with the cellphone (regulation), so isn’t that ironic?” Gravatt said. “Before we put in this ordinance, I – probably wrongly – would just pick up my phone and answer it. Now, I have to wait, as I should.”

To let drivers know about the ban, Gravatt and his crew were posting nine signs at various entry points to city limits. One is up near the Buckhouse Bridge, a couple are on either end of Broadway, the Interstate 90 interchanges have them, one is on Reserve Street, one is on Grant Creek Road and one is on Mullan Road.

“We just thought it was really important to make sure we had the signs in before they started ticketing,” Gravatt said.

If you don’t want to pull over, you have another free option, at least if you already own earbuds. You may plug your earbuds into your phone, pop one in an ear, and put your phone on speaker.

It isn’t likely you’ll be stopped by a police officer, but it might not be advisable, either. Chief Muir said a person legally talking on their cellphone and using an earbud probably did violate the ordinance at some point in handling their phone, and the larger problem is distracted driving.

Fines from the ordinance will be used to educate the public about overall risks, he said: “We’re optimistic we’ll be able to put that money to good use if it comes in.”

City communications director Ginny Merriam said a couple of lit billboards are posted, one on Interstate 90 where commuters from places like Grant Creek and the Ninemile will be able to see it, and another at Brooks Street near Livingston Street. Transit ads will be on Mountain Line buses, too.


2. Economic to more spendy

“There’s lots of affordable options as far as hands-free devices go,” said Craig Burns, Wireless Connection store manager.

With the ban in place and nearly in full effect, he said customers have been walking in the door of the Southgate Mall shop and asking about their options. At the lower end, he said, gadgets start around $40, and at the more moderate and pricey levels, they climb to $100, $150, depending on the sound quality.

A popular one on the lower end is a Plantronics M25, he said. It’s roughly $40, and it has a “really good headset, good sound quality.”

Some options don’t go into your ear.

“There’s also ones you can sell that just clip right on your visor so that way it’s not something that’s in your ear,” Burns said.

One that’s been popular is the Jabra Extreme II, and it’s $130.

Most phones on the market are compatible with any of the devices, Burns said, or they’re “Bluetooth capable.”

In the past, sales people had to bring the hands-free devices to the attention of customers, he said. Now, people are asking about them.


3. As part of a new car

Of course, you’re not going to go out and buy a whole new car to comply with the ban.

But if you’re in the market for brand-new wheels already, chances are your car will have a hands-free feature already installed. If you live in western Montana, you might be looking for a Subaru, and indeed, those cars have hands free covered.

“Overall, it’s very well received, and people are usually very surprised at how easy it is to use,” said Jessica Dominic, general manager for Kendall 4 Seasons Subaru in Missoula.

The driver’s phone gets “paired” with the car, and getting them in sync takes a minute or two: “When you get into your car and turn your car on, the Bluetooth in your cellphone and the Bluetooth in the car recognize each other,” Dominic said. “So they link up every time you get into the car.”

If someone calls, the call comes through your stereo system. Want to pick up? You don’t have to take your hands off the wheel.

“There’s a little button on the steering wheel. It looks like a little phone where you can answer the phone or hang up your call,” Dominic said.

The feature has become more and more prevalent over the years, and Dominic said she’s surprised it took Missoula so long to ban drivers from using cellphones.

“It’s just a safety feature to not talk on your phone,” Dominic said.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, or on

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at or at (406) 523-5262.

Reporter for the Missoulian

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(17) comments


So if someone talks and drives while drunk will they get a slap on the wrist?


A drivers license is a privilege, correct. Whos talking about a drivers license. Idiots. Washington State has a cell phone ban. Only police and emergency workers are allowed to use a cell phone on the job. You know who else? Me. Anyone with a hearing aid who cannot use another other means for a hands free device is exempt.


I think cell phones are being unfairly called out here. While I believe they lead to increased poor driving, I do not think it is a bigger cause than someone eating, attempting to put on make-up, having their dog sit on their lap or any other distraction from driving. Seems like good lobbying by cellphone accessory companies to make more money


@Ejace- your rights are not being violated, you are a drama queen. First of all, driving is a priviledge, not a right. Second of all, you don't have to make calls in your car...period. Wait until you're stopped, call before you leave. Sheesh, you'd think we never lived in a time when phone calls were only made at your house or place of business. Please don't tie up our court system with your "violating my rights" garbage, there are more important things courts need to handle then you talking on the phone in your car.

As for the rest of you who aren't in favor of this. I challenge you to look at the statistics on accidents related to cell phone use while driving. The numbers are staggering, and almost as bad as drunk driving related accidents. I don't see none of you crying to get drunk driving legal. This is actually a great law going into effect, and I'm surprised it took us so long enact it. Suck it up people, either go hands free, or wait to make your calls, the world won't end because you have to call someone back because you chose to concentrate on the driving task, and respect the safety of others around you. I applaude you Missoula!


"IF you live in Western MT a Subaru would be good choice" Missoulian says. Who would have thought it!


Anyone seen this cell phone ban and how it's worded? I am hearing impaired and cannot use a blue tooth. Or a speaker set up. Or anything. My rights are being violated here. I am supposed to be treated like everyone else. They get to have options to use a cell phone and I don't? Because I am disabled? My eyes are better than anyone else's with exception for some who have perfect vision. What exactly does that mean? I am more aware of my surroundings. I've been in dozens of near misses. Thats cuz they didnt see me. I saw them though. I believe I was listening to the radio. Or talking on the cell phone. Or petting my dog. Or reading the newspaper. I was still in my lane. Between the lines. With enough distance between you and me. I dont have a cell phone. If I did...I would answer the phone on the road. Or text. With complete confidence in my ability to not have an accident. Because I use my eyes to drive. Not my ears. They dont work so good. So...did u make a provision for my disability. Im thinking not. And go ahead and ticket me. Im taking you to court. With the full backing of ADA. You have to treat me like everyone else. They get to talk on the phone with accommodations? And I dont? I dont think so.


Get off the road!!! A drivers license is a privilege not a right.


you said it! it's like adults have turned into a bunch of teenagers! how embarrassing. you all act like your 15 year old daughters. I remember when guys in HS didn't even want to talk on the phone, now they're worse than the girls! put your phones down and get a life. I for one will be happy to turn in anyone I see driving and talking in a commercial vehicle, that is a $1500 fine. So beware, I see one man in a company vehicle every day on his phone, I cannot wait to turn him in!


As usual the majority are punished because of the few that can't do two things at once or have to text while driving.
Thanks a lot

Cars running on the side of the road while people talk...that should help the air quality


Not to mention more obstacles for the rest of us to dodge.


you poor thing, how will you ever manage to drive without talking to someone. does anyone work in this town or do you all sit around texting and talking all day? get a hobby, DO something! pathetic.


A little late on the comment, but don't be an a** to someone just because they have a differing view than you.. I understand you have no purpose on the road but to call other people in for using their cell phones while driving 30 in a 45. However some of us do. I work on-call and receive a majority of my calls while I am driving. While there are some idiots out there pulling bonehead moves while driving, this does not describe everyone that drives while using a cell phone. Some people can't walk and chew gum at the same time, should we ban gum to? Anyways, Onto how stupid this law is.. I know you guys think banning/fining people for using their phones will solve everything, However I feel it necessary to point out the rising trend in people putting their phones on speakerphone, or in a carriage type device or placing it on their legs.. How is that any better. Now they are looking further from the road to operate the phone vs when it was held in their hand. Not to mention how unreliable these hands free devices are. I have went through at least 5 trying to get one that works almost as well as the cell phone does itself..

Love's Life

This ban is just silly, but they should make a pretty dollar on it. There should just be a simple law against "DISTRACTED DRIVING". That would cover those that feel the need to apply makeup, shave, pick out a new CD, read their mail....on and on and on!! I feel pretty strongly that it is not the act of turning on the phone or the act of holding the phone so much as it is the conversation that is so how do they jusify the hands free device as the answer??? Where do these law makers come from....................Common sense seems to be lacking.


How is it detected? Just police eye contact? How will an officier prove some one violated the law? Let's say an officier thinks they see a driver, drive by using a phone. They pull them over and there is no phone in sight, and the driver deny usage of phone. Does the officier check with the cell company to see if a call was being used? If it's an incoming call can it be traced? Can an officier search the car or are they restricted to just visual? I hope an officier can't search a car or frisk a person based on what they thought they saw. On DUI and speed tickets they have devices to back up there stop.


does it really matter? just stop using your DA** phone! whiny little immature brats. god this city is disgusting.


Doesn't really matter. The whole thing looks to me like a ploy to make more money.. Fine the public because a minute percentage of people get in accidents.. Maybe they should ban soft-drinks, food, etc.. Seems to me their plan is to randomly drop the speed limits around missoula, and then fine people when they try to call and say they are going to be late for work..

wonder how many fines they are going to have to give out to recoup the money they are wasting on signs and billboards..


I am certain I am still in the days of the covered wagon, and am not clear what a Bluetooth is although it is some technology that were I to have it I could not live without it...would enhance my breathing and everything. I do know it is important for parents to be able to stay in touch with kids I guess etc, Other than that there is no one I want to talk to bad enough I can't wait till I get to a grocery store parking lot. Of course I grew up in the days ( as did many of us) when you had to ask permission to use the phone to call schoolmates etc and then it better not be a girl. I always swore as a kid I would never be critical of the changes in technology my kids experienced. I lied. I didn't mean to lie. I like to be opn to new things. But when you see a kid run in to a wall as he texts walking in a building...well I lied. Hope everyone who has this addiction can find the right solution and avoid the fines. Glad the council put this in place for people like me who actually pay attention to our driving and try to avoid those talking on the phone...who are supposed to be driving..

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