Missoula ban on cellphone use by drivers, bikers takes effect

2012-12-05T06:15:00Z 2014-06-11T20:19:14Z Missoula ban on cellphone use by drivers, bikers takes effectBy KEILA SZPALLER of the Missoulian missoulian.com
December 05, 2012 6:15 am  • 

Put your mobile phone down, and place your hands on the wheel.

On Wednesday, Missoula’s ban on driving or cycling with a handheld cellphone takes effect. Hands-free devices are legal for drivers, though.

“We’re cutting down on distracted driving, and a cellphone is one of the distractions in the car,” said Capt. Chris Odlin of the Missoula Police Department.

Police will pull over people for driving with a cellphone in hand, but for 60 days, they’ll only issue verbal warnings. The exception is if a driver causes a wreck while talking on a cellphone.

“My directive to them (patrol officers) has been to make it part of their normal traffic enforcement plan, basically,” Odlin said. “And I think just based on the prevalence of the violation, it shouldn’t be hard to find. So it should increase the number of traffic stops, I would imagine.”

Police aren’t going to track the number of warnings they issue, though, according to Odlin. He said police have a system that’s capable of doing so, but they had not intended to keep track.

“Right now, I can’t think of why we would care how many warnings we give. I can’t think of how we would use that statistic,” he said.

In 2009, Missoula was the first large city in Montana to consider banning drivers from using cellphones, but the effort failed. Mayor John Engen vetoed the measure because it didn’t have a hands-free provision, and all that remained was a ban on texting and driving.

Police found that one difficult to enforce the past few years because it isn’t easy to tell if a driver is texting or dialing. In the meantime, Bozeman, Butte, Billings, Great Falls, Hamilton, Havre, Helena and Whitefish put bans in place before Missoula did.

The prohibition in Great Falls started in August. In an earlier interview, Great Falls Police Sgt. Bryan Slavik said officers issued 54 warnings and no tickets the first month the ordinance was in place; in the second month, they wrote 12 tickets and 10 warnings within the first 20 days.

As with most rules, the one in Missoula has some exceptions. Drivers are off the hook if they are driving an emergency vehicle, calling for emergency reasons, operating a two-way radio for work, or have pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.

Police will start writing tickets after the initial warning period of 60 days. Councilman Dave Strohmaier, who sponsored the ordinance, included a 90-day warning period, but the ordinance language said warnings would kick off when the council approved the measure, Nov. 5. In Missoula, ordinances typically take effect 30 days after they’re adopted, so now, the warning period is 60 days.

“I think 60 days will be plenty adequate,” Strohmaier said. “There was some confusion over adoption versus the ordinance going into effect, so I think this is fine and more than what most communities seem to have done in terms of educational efforts.”

For Strohmaier, the hands-free option in a car seems like more hassle than it’s worth. He said he’ll either pull over to the side of the road, or he’ll just refrain from talking on the phone in the car.

“I am parked along the side of the road right now,” Strohmaier.

The fine for a first offense will be $100, and the fine for a second offense is $150 if it’s committed within 12 months. The minimum fine for a driver who is talking on a mobile device and gets into a wreck is $350.

The ordinance puts 50 percent of the fines collected toward public information, and Strohmaier said he will be working with the administration to “roll out a pretty robust education campaign.” The Police Department, communications office and Public Works Department also are involved in the outreach effort, according to the city, and it’s slated to be in place by Feb. 5 when patrol officers are free to write citations.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. Jon-D
    Report Abuse
    Jon-D - April 30, 2013 10:39 pm
    You see that many people drunk on their cell phones? They are probably too drunk to know they need a hands free set or they will get fined..

    I am sure the problem here is 100% caused by holding the phone to your head. So clearly a hands free set will solve all the distraction problems..
  2. Jon-D
    Report Abuse
    Jon-D - April 30, 2013 10:34 pm
    great use of resources.. Instead of stopping actual crimes let's focus on drivers on cell phones.. Hey next maybe we can get a whole bunch of cops to watch for people crossing the streets where there are no marked crosswalks..
  3. MyPointofView
    Report Abuse
    MyPointofView - December 06, 2012 1:40 pm
    Being a law abiding citizen, well mainly, I found myself rubbernecking looking for the fuzz. I really never noticed how much I do use my phone in the car, just calls, no texts. Now that it's a law not to, I've become more aware, in just 1 day, how much I was on the phone... I'm going hands free, it's just right, and the way to go...good law
  4. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - December 06, 2012 8:14 am
    There aren't enough cops in Missoula to stop 62,000 drivers in one day - get a clue.
  5. MTSierra
    Report Abuse
    MTSierra - December 05, 2012 1:19 pm
    Good point, but being drunk alters your motorskills, where phones, eating, and such is a distraction for some. Driving is a hand eye coordination task and like some people they just don't have it
  6. urkiddingme
    Report Abuse
    urkiddingme - December 05, 2012 12:00 pm
    and the people reading full on novels or the paper... this should have been a law against distracted driving period! good start!
  7. oldfish
    Report Abuse
    oldfish - December 05, 2012 10:26 am
    MT Sierra I'd bet most drunk drivers could make the same claim. So if you can't drive drunk you should not be allowed to drive?
  8. Report Abuse
    - December 05, 2012 8:48 am
    Missoula police will use unmarked patrol units. Other Montana cities are using this tactic.
  9. MTSierra
    Report Abuse
    MTSierra - December 05, 2012 8:06 am
    Well at least I can still eat and drive and the ladies can still put thier make-up on and drive. Does this pertain to using your Ipod on your phone?

    I have been using my cell phone and driving for a long time not and have never once been in an accident or pulled over while using it. If you are unable to talk on your cell phone and drive you shouldn't be able to drive.
  10. MiddleFinger
    Report Abuse
    MiddleFinger - December 05, 2012 8:03 am
    "Police aren’t going to track the number of warnings they issue, though, according to Odlin. He said police have a system that’s capable of doing so, but they had not intended to keep track.

    “Right now, I can’t think of why we would care how many warnings we give. I can’t think of how we would use that statistic,” he said."

    How flipping stupid. Keep track of the numbers and I'll find a good use for the data.

    What if the cops stop 62,000 drivers the first day. Wouldn't you want to know what reality looks like?

    Unless, of course, you want to hide something from the public like the cops NOT doing their jobs regarding this new law.

    My money is on the latter!
  11. walter12
    Report Abuse
    walter12 - December 05, 2012 7:06 am
    This law makes sense but it is impossible to enforce. The police would have to fine half the women in this town.
  12. Got concrete
    Report Abuse
    Got concrete - December 05, 2012 6:15 am
    Uhuh, yawn, okay...
  13. pl
    Report Abuse
    pl - December 05, 2012 4:59 am
    Glad this has passed. Am sick of seeing people get in their cars, put their car in drive and immediately get on the phone and are incapable of even getting out of the parking lot! NOW, can we do something to get the drunks off our roads?
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