Distracted Drivers

An man works his phone as he drives through traffic. Montana lawmakers are considering a statewide ban on cellphones while driving. Senate bill 390 would allow for hands-free use only.

HELENA — State lawmakers are considering telling Montanans to hang up and drive — or face hefty fines.

Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, told the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee on Tuesday that Senate Bill 390 would allow drivers to talk on their cellphones only through a hands-free device. Under Kaufmann's measure, minors behind the wheel wouldn't be able to speak on cellphones at all, and no driver would be allowed to text while driving.

Texting while stopped at stoplight or stop sign would also be prohibited under the measure.

"There are three problems with use of these hand-held electronic devices," Kaufmann said. "They take your hands off the wheel; they take your eyes off the road; and take your mind off the task at hand."

Kaufmann said her bill would establish consistency across the state, saying that many Montana cities already have municipal laws that ban cellphone use while driving — including Missoula, Bozeman, Helena, Whitefish, Butte, Hamilton, Silver Bow, Great Falls and Billings.

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Supporters of the measure echoed Kaufmann's concerns with driving safety and said the bill would promote uniformity across the state.

Kaufmann acknowledged that it may be difficult to catch a driver texting but said she believes that Montanans are mostly law-abiding citizens, and by passing the measure, the Legislature will promote a culture of safe driving.

"Someone mentioned there's 3 percent of the population who can do this safely," Kaufmann said. "The problem is that 50 percent of the population thinks they are in that 3 percent."

Under Kaufman's bill, first-time violators would be fined $50, second-time violators $100 and third-time violators $200.

The committee didn't take immediate action on the bill.

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