Businesses whose employees spend much of their time in the car and on the phone have been scrambling to make sure they’re complying with the city’s new cell phone ordinance.
The ordinance that kicked in today bans most drivers from using a cell phone — to talk or text — while on the road unless they have a hands-free wireless device that lets them use the phone while keeping their hands on the wheel.
For businesses such as utility companies and courier services, the ban could have a significant impact on operations if they don’t comply because their employees spend so much time on the road.
“We’ve been working on this for over a month,” said Terry Holzer, general manager of Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative. “We’re looking at systems for our drivers, testing out different hands-free devices that they can use for their phones. But we’ve instructed all of our employees that they’ll need to follow” the new law.
Most of the electric cooperative’s service areas are outside city limits, but many of its engineers and linesmen spend a good part of the day driving from one edge of Billings to the other.
Sean O’Donnell, regional vice president of Bresnan Communications, said the company has purchased Bluetooth hands-free setups for all workers — about 50 technicians and other employees — who drive a company vehicle in town.
Once the devices are set up, it should be business as usual, he said.
“In terms of how we run our business, using the hands-free and having those available for our employees will ensure a level of continuity for us,” O’Donnell said.
Tim Critelli, owner of Critelli Courier Service, said his company will comply but feels the law puts some financial burden on businesses such as his.
The courier service has operation centers in Billings and Butte and puts about 35 drivers on the road five days a week.
“The first thing is, I understand the safety part of it,” Critelli said. “But we’ll have to equip 35 drivers with a Bluetooth. If we get the inexpensive models, in the $20 to $50 range, look at the expense of the one times 35.”
Bluetooth sales around Billings have soared since the ordinance passed. Cellular Plus owner Adam Kimmett said in early October that over three weeks, his business had seen Bluetooth sales nearly double.
During that time, he said, Cellular Plus sold 2,500 units, more than his 36 stores sold in all of 2009.