ANACONDA –- Talking on your cellphone while driving is now prohibited in Anaconda, though some residents are concerned whether police can actually enforce the new law.
County commissioners voted 3-1 Tuesday to approve Ordinance No. 217A, which imposes a minimum $100 fine on drivers caught using their cellphone without a hands-free device.
The ordinance, proposed by eighth-grade honors U.S. history students at Fred Moodry Middle School, expands on the texting while driving ban passed two years ago.
First-time offenders face a maximum $300 fine, and $500 fine for second or subsequent offenses.
Police and emergency responders are exempt if acting on duty, and the ordinance also makes exception for emergency calls to 911, the fire department, hospital or ambulance.
Commissioner Robert Pierce voted against the measure, while Elaine Lux-Burt did not attend the meeting.
“I don’t think it will be followed, and I don’t think you can enforce it,” Pierce said.
Officers have not issued a single citation since the texting while driving ordinance went into effect, according to Chief Tim Barkell, and Butte police have issued only 53 citations since its own cellphone while driving ban went into effect last year.
Still, Rose Nyman said the regulations give law enforcement another tool in the case of an accident and motioned it forward as a primary offense -– which gives probable cause for a traffic stop.
Assistant Police Chief Bill Sather told commissioners the department will do its best to enforce the law, but said it would be difficult.
“We look at it like going out to the lake,” Sather said. “You might catch some fish, but you won’t catch them all.”
Three people spoke during a brief public hearing. Marilyn Klanecky, a commission candidate in District 1, said she believes the ordinance is needed after she was almost been hit four or five times by drivers on their cellphone.
State Sen. Gene Vuckovich asked whether the police department could be held liable if it cannot enforce the ordinance in the case of an accident.
Kids in Tammy Hurley’s class decided to tackle distracted driving as part of the national “Project Citizen” curriculum for middle school. Surveys with local businesses, police and firefighters showed 82 percent in favor of their ordinance.
Hurley’s 2009-2010 class also wrote the original texting ordinance, which passed 4-0.
Taryn Softich, 14, said she was happy to see their revision approved.
“I would still like to hear everybody’s opinion,” Softich said. “If enforceability is a problem, they should just try their best.”