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Issue Position: Cell Phones

Issue Position

Location: Unknown


Last week in the legislature, I had a hearing on a bill I'm sponsoring: House Bill 49. It restricts the use of cell phones and texting devices while driving in school zones and in cities. In most of the state, there will be no impact at all. But in school zones and in bigger cities, drivers will need to refrain from using their manually operated, hand held cell phones or texting devices.

Hands free operation of the phone is allowed under the bill. If you have a headset or other hands free product then this bill would not impact your use of that equipment. It does affect texting, however. Just like talking on the phone, I believe the act of text messaging takes too much attention away from the road. There are many roads and areas in Montana where it may be less hazardous to text and drive at the same time, but school zones and in our larger communities are not among those areas.

Statistics indicate that a significant number of accidents are caused by drivers who don't pay adequate attention to the road. The frequency and seriousness of accidents increase when the level of attention goes down. Talking or texting while driving are two serious problems that take attention away from the road. I believe school zones are especially an area where it's not acceptable to run that risk.

We would love to believe that everyone has common sense, but the sad fact is that it's just not true. Some people are simply unwilling to accept personal responsibility, and that causes a potential danger to the rest of us, and to the children who are going through school zones.

The bill has been heard in the House Transportation Committee. It enjoyed broad support from law enforcement.

The bill also has a number of exemptions. Drivers of emergency vehicles, like ambulances and police cars, are exempt from the rules when they're performing their official duties. So are drivers of public maintenance vehicles like snow plows and medical or disaster responders like the Red Cross.

It was quite some time ago that I asked for this bill to be drafted. But something happened just recently that confirmed for me the need for this kind of legislation. My granddaughter, a high school senior, had a lady run a stop light right in front of her. This lady went across five lanes of traffic. Fortunately my granddaughter was able to brake enough that instead of being hit, she actually hit the woman who ran the stop light.

The moral of the story is, of course, that the woman who ran the stop light was talking on her cell phone.

The result of the collision was that both vehicles were totaled. My granddaughter was injured, thankfully not seriously. But if something like that happens in a school zone, who knows whether we can count on being that blessed.

When a behavior risks the lives of others, society is within its rights to take action to prevent it. When a behavior risks the lives of children in particular, we are within our rights to stop that behavior. Hang up and drive is good advice in any situation. I believe that in school zones, and in higher population areas it ought to be more than good advice; it ought to be the law.

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