Missoula’s ban on the use of cellphones while driving transitions on Tuesday from an educational phase involving warnings to one with citations carrying fines up to $300.
The Missoulian reports that a second citation within a year can lead to a fine of up to $500.
The ban allows for the hands-free use of cellphones, such as putting a caller on speakerphone or using ear buds with a microphone.
Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir said officers issued 28 warnings in December, but as daylight increases and officers can see inside cars more easily, he expects the number tickets to exceed the number of warnings.
“It won’t surprise me to see us issue maybe a couple hundred a month,” Muir said.
The chief said a recent observational study of about 10,000 cars found 5 percent with drivers using hand-held phones illegally.
Councilman Dave Strohmaier said that on his walks downtown he hasn’t seen a noticeable drop in the number of people illegally using a cellphone while driving.
“I continue to see folks pulling bonehead maneuvers downtown while turning corners talking on a cellphone or sitting at stoplights downtown,” Strohmaier said. “So my hope would be, come Tuesday, with the opportunity to send a little stronger message to people, we might see a significant reduction.”
Wayne Gravatt, city traffic services engineer, said workers are posting signs at entry points to the city warning of the cellphone ban.
“We just thought it was really important to make sure we had the signs in before they started ticketing,” Gravatt said.
Craig Burns, Wireless Connection store manager, said there are options for motorists who want to talk on the phone while driving. He said gadgets for hands-free talking start at about $40 and go up to about $150. They range from ear buds to wireless devices using Bluetooth.
Upping the cost considerably is buying a new car that that has some type of hands-free cellphone chatting device installed.
“When you get into your car and turn your car on, the Bluetooth in your cellphone and the Bluetooth in the car recognize each other,” said Jessica Dominic, general manager for Kendall 4 Seasons Subaru in Missoula. “So they link up every time you get into the car.”
She said vehicles also come with a button on the steering wheel allowing the driver to answer a call and hang up.
“It’s just a safety feature to not talk on your phone,” Dominic said.
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