Try 1 month for $5

HAMILTON -- Six Montana cities, including Billings, ban drivers from texting or talking on cellphones while driving. Thirty-five states prohibit texting and driving.

And the National Transportation Safety Board has called for a nationwide ban on all cellphone use while behind the wheel.

Now, the city of Hamilton will begin discussions to see if it wants to join those ranks.

The Hamilton City Council's Committee of the Whole will start public discussions on a possible ban on cellphone use by drivers in city limits. The committee meets Jan. 24.

The topic was raised a couple of years ago by City Councilman Al Mitchell.

Mitchell, who walks around Hamilton quite a bit and doesn't own a cellphone himself, has had dangerous encounters with drivers who a lot of times were talking on their phones, he said.

"I've just had some close calls, and it's very frustrating," Mitchell said.

The idea of a proposed ban, however, was shot down by the rest of the council at the time.

"I brought it up, and I was soundly defeated," Mitchell said.

But with multiple Montana cities enacting ordinances within their limits and a national call to arms of sorts by NTSB chair Deborah A.P. Hersman to end all cellphone use while driving, the time was ripe to reopen the conversation, Mitchell said.

"It's time to bring it back up again," he said. "We've had inquiries from citizens to bring it back on the agenda."

Six Montana towns have some sort of ordinance in place banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.

Missoula is the most lenient. The city's ordinance only prohibits texting while driving -- a ban that went into effect in July 2009.

Billings was the first Montana city to outlaw talking while driving, creating a "distracted driving" ordinance that took effect in October of 2010. It bans the use of phones and two-way radios by drivers in vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles and four-wheelers.

Law enforcement, emergency responders, as well as truck and taxi drivers, are exempt from the ordinance.

Last year, Whitefish, Butte and Helena all enacted ordinances to keep drivers from picking up the phone while behind the wheel.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Butte's ban went into effect in May, Whitefish's in September and Helena in December. Bozeman's ban just started.

All of those ordinances come with misdemeanor charges and fines of $100.

In December, Hersman publicly called for outlawing phone -- including with hands-free devices -- conversations while driving across the nation.

"No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life," Hersman said at the time. "It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices while driving."

An estimate pegs distracted driving, which includes cellphone use, as the contributor to 3,092 deaths last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Nine states prohibit drivers from using handheld devices while driving.

The NTSB doesn't have the power to impose any restrictions. That would be up to federal and state lawmakers.

The same goes for Hamilton's Committee of the Whole. The committee will discuss the topic and can decide to send a recommendation to the City Council if the group decides. The committee can't make any decisions; only the City Council can.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.