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  Comments (2) Total Sunday Apr. 20, 2014
Kalispell Examining Banning Cell Phone Use While Driving
With distracted driving continuing to increase, city council and staff discussing possible solutions
Nearly 1,900 vehicle accidents occur every year in Kalispell. It’s unclear exactly how many involve distracted drivers using cell phones, but there clearly has been an increase in absentmindedness behind the wheel, according to Kalispell Police Chief Roger Nasset.

Talking on the phone or texting while driving has become a “national epidemic,” in the words of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Thirty-eight states have enacted laws restricting or banning the use of electronic devices while driving. Montana is not one of them. Instead cities have taken the lead. Missoula, Great Falls, Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Hamilton, Whitefish and Columbia Falls have all added ordinances, and Kalispell could be joining the list.

“I do think it is definitely time we take a look at this type of ordinance,” said City Councilor Wayne Saverud.

Councilors discussed distracted driving and other examples of banning cell phones while driving at last week’s work session. Councilor Jim Atkinson brought up the issue after hearing from residents who continue seeing near-accidents across town.

Nasset echoed those concerns from an enforcement perspective.

“From what we see on daily basis, the distractions are more evident than in the past,” he said.

Nasset said he contacted other communities with ordinances and most reported improvements.

“From a police perspective they had positive things to reflect back,” he said. “They felt it did help. It was successful.”

Nasset mentioned the possibility of examining a countywide ban, which would group together the ordinances in Whitefish and Columbia Falls and create a clear directive for the entire community and its visitors. This would also aid enforcement, he said.

Phil Guiffrida III spoke out against an ordinance, saying it would only duplicate existing reckless driving laws and put more burden on police. Using Whitefish as an example, he said the new ordinance has made the problem worse.

“What I’m seeing is absolutely no change since the ordinance went into effect,” he said. “I’m seeing the possibility of an even more distracted situation. Drivers are now watching out for police and then drop the phone in their lap.”

Councilor Randy Kenyon followed up by firmly disagreeing with Guiffrida.

“I don’t think it’s an enforcement issue. It’s a matter of public awareness,” Kenyon said. “By us passing an ordinance it will raise people’s consciousness … If we can just diminish a little bit of cell phone usage the city will be a far safer place.”

City Manager Doug Russell said he would return with more information about the subject in the near future.
On 09-29-12, JB commented....
@RedGreen - I was about to bash those who favor another law making drivers conform, but I could get behind a “proof of financial responsibility” law.
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