Gazette opinion: Billings City Council votes for safer driving

2010-07-29T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Billings City Council votes for safer driving The Billings Gazette
July 29, 2010 12:00 am

Drivers who are on the phone don’t have their minds on the road as they should.

That fact has been substantiated by numerous scientific studies that found dangerous distractions are posed by dialing, texting, talking or using other phone functions when the user also is operating a motor vehicle. Last year in Montana, at least four deaths and 222 crashes were attributed to cell phone use, according the the Montana Highway Patrol.

Staying off the phone is the safest policy for drivers and for the public.

This information must be repeated for Billings drivers again and again, especially in the next few months. When the Billings City Council voted Monday night to restrict drivers’ cell phone use, it created an urgent need for public education.

The citizens advisory committee that studied phoning while driving and recommended the ordinance that a council majority supported Monday recognized the importance of education. When the council created the distracted-driving advisory committee, it charged the volunteer group with addressing both driver education and enforcement of a possible ordinance.

Now that the council has given preliminary approval, the ordinance will be in effect Oct. 31, assuming the council votes final approval next month.

Thanks to Councilwoman Peggie Gaghen, who initiated the distracted-driving prevention effort, Councilman Dick Clark, who also served on the advisory committee and all of the members who volunteered their time over several months. As Gaghen said, the members represent a broad cross section of the community, including insurance, cell phone providers, educators, students, health, law enforcement and the legal profession. Gaghen said she plans to reconvene the committee to work on public education once the council votes for final approval. We encourage her to do that.

Billings residents already receive important public-safety messages in a variety of media; all these must be employed to step up education about phoning while driving:

• The city website and newsletter should highlight the new ordinance before it takes effect and for months afterward.

• School District 2 driver’s education classes, which already have a unit on distracted driving, should add specific information about the new city ordinance.

• The city should include information on the cell phone ordinance in monthly water bills and other correspondence that goes out to a large number of citizens.

• The assistance of community health and safety organizations should be mobilized to get the word out to their patients and members.

• Information needs to be provided to staff and students at Montana State University and Rocky Mountain College, especially those who reside outside of Billings.

The Gazette will highlight such efforts as they get under way because the point of this ordinance isn’t to assess fines. The purpose is to persuade us to change our phone habits and drive safer. That’s a goal we all can live with.

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