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Missoula: Texting ban now in effect

Missoula: Texting ban now in effect

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Better text L8R if you're driving. A city citation is nothing to LOL about.

The Missoula City Council's ordinance banning text messaging while driving and bicycling went into effect Wednesday, and as far as Police Chief Mark Muir knew on Thursday morning, no one had yet been cited.

A month ago, the Missoula City Council adopted a new ordinance restricting all cell phone use while driving. Though the original law banned even talking on your cell phone while behind the wheel, Mayor John Engen later vetoed that section of the ordinance.

What remains, and is now in effect, is the ban against texting while driving or biking. That includes sending e-mails.

Police officers were reminded of the new law during Wednesday briefings, Muir said, and have been provided with a copy of the ordinance. Officers will enforce the new law the best they can when they have the opportunity, he said.

The new law makes texting behind the wheel a primary offense, so police have the authority to pull over a driver they believe is punching out a message.

"It's pretty straightforward," Muir said.

The fine for a first-time offender is a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $500. The ticket may not be suspended or waived. The minimum fine for a second offense within a year is $150.

The fine for a driver who causes a crash as the result of text messaging is a minimum $350.

Knowing whether the person is dialing a phone number or texting is obviously tricky, Muir admitted.

"That's the big question people have," he said.

It's a question that probably won't be answered until the new ordinance is challenged in court.

"As time goes on and individuals are cited, the courts will help us sort out some of the details," he said.

Crash data collected up to this point never distinguished between drivers talking or texting on their cell phones at the time of an accident, Muir said. Now, based on citations, police will be able to keep more accurate data.

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy @missoulian.com.

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