By CASSIDY GEOGHEGAN/Montana State News
In the year since Bozeman banned using handheld cell phones while driving, police have been issuing $100 citations at a rate of about 17 a month, according to the Bozeman Police Department.
In the first month of the ban, last January and February, officers issued some 70 warnings. Since July of last year, the only more recent data available, police have issued 100 citations.
The ban covers handheld device use while driving both a vehicle and a bicycle, and texting, calling or even using your phone on speaker is prohibited.
According to the National Safety Council, 28 percent of traffic accidents occur when people talk on cell phones or send text messages while driving. Cell phone users have been found to be 5.36 times more likely to get in an accident than undistracted drivers. Other studies have shown the risk is about the same as for drivers with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level.
Bozeman, as well as Billings, Whitefish, Butte and Helena are the cities in Montana to ban the use of cell phones while driving, while Missoula only bans texting while driving.
While Missoula was among the first to propose such a ban, it was one of the last to actually adopt one. Members of the Missoula City Council approved a law against using cell phones while operating a vehicle in 2009, but Mayor John Engen vetoed all but the ban on texting while driving, citing the need for an exclusion for hands-free devices.
In Helena, they handed out 300 citations in 2012, and in Billings, they wrote nearly 400 tickets and issued 400 warnings, according to news reports.
— Edited by Bill Wilke