This week, Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier again proposed limiting cellphone use while driving.
Strohmaier proposed a similar ordinance three years ago. Locals then said the legislation, which would have prohibited cellphone use outright, including hands-free devices, was too sweeping. Missoula Mayor John Engen vetoed part of it, leaving only a texting-while-driving prohibition in place.
Since then, several Montana cities, including Helena, Bozeman and Billings, have passed cellphone ordinances. "Missoula has been left in the dust," Strohmaier says.
The new ordinance would permit hands-free cellular devices if they're voice-activated. The ban would apply to cars, motorcycles and bicycles. First-time offenders would face a $300 fine, with additional citations becoming more costly. If law enforcement were to determine that a driver was using a cellphone when an accident occurred, there would be a $350 penalty.
A portion of the fine proceeds would fund a driver education campaign detailing the hazards of talking and texting while driving. Studies, including one conducted by Monash University in 2006, have found that motorists using handheld phones are up to four times more likely than undistracted drivers to get into an accident. Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended an all-out ban on cellphones while driving, including hands-free devices.
Missoulians have said that a cellphone ban treads too heavily on individual liberties and economic interests. What's the difference, they ask, between eating a cheeseburger and talking on the phone?
"It's a matter of brain function," Strohmaier says.