Council hears support for ban [Missoulian (MT)]
(Missoulian (MT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Pom Fountain rides his bicycle around Missoula, and Monday, he urged the Missoula City Council to ban drivers from talking on cellphones behind the wheel.
"It will make our lives so much safer out there," Fountain said to a packed meeting room.
At its regular meeting, Councilman Bob Jaffe kicked the proposed cellphone ban back to committee, but not for major changes. Rather, Jaffe said he intends to support the prohibition but wants to clean up some of the cumbersome and overly detailed language; the item is on an upcoming Public Safety and Health Committee agenda.
On Monday, most of the people who commented were in favor of the ban, although some didn't support the exemption for hands-free devices. Eric Mendelson, for instance, said banning a hands-free device in addition to a cellphone may save two lives, but if banning a handheld cellphone saves just one life, it's at least a step in the right direction.
"I vote for incremental reform," Mendelson said. "Because after all, isn't that how we accomplished most social reforms in this country Incrementally "
Scott Blake, on the other hand, wondered if the ordinance might force him to pull over to the side of the road all the time. Blake is hearing impaired, but he uses his phone for multiple jobs.
He wears a hearing aid in his right ear, and he can't pull it out or he won't hear anything around him. But Blake can't use a Bluetooth with it, either, so he questioned how the ordinance would affect his livelihood. At the same time, he supports the prohibition.
"I agree we should have a ban. I was almost hit on a bicycle," Blake said.
Councilman Dave Strohmaier pitched the ordinance, and it's similar to the one he proposed in 2009 before any other city in Montana had adopted bans against driving and talking on the phone. At the time, the council adopted an even stricter ban than Strohmaier proposed, but it ended up defanged.
The ordinance was approved without an exception for hands-free devices, and Mayor John Engen vetoed most of it after public outcry. So that left mainly a ban on texting and driving, a toothless regulation since police can't tell if drivers are texting or dialing.
On Monday, Missoula Police Department Chief Mark Muir expressed his enthusiasm for the ordinance on the table, and he said he wants to launch an aggressive education blitz as soon as the law is on the books. The number of people who drive with cellphones is growing and "alarming," he said.
"We will make every effort to stop as many people as possible who have not gotten the word and make sure that they get the word," Muir said.
Instead of writing tickets during the initial educational period, proposed to be 90 days, police would pull over drivers and give them educational information, he said. They'd also document the number of vehicles they stop.
While many people echoed the chief's support for the ordinance, Mike Fellows said the regulation isn't necessary given other laws on the books against dangerous driving. Plus, he said, research shows more dangerous behaviors abound, such as eating and drinking in the car, so the ban would simply penalize "a few people who can't multitask."
"I think talking on a cellphone is a lot less distracting than kids fighting in the backseat, Fellows said.
True multitasking, though, doesn't really exist, said Bob Luceno, who encouraged councilors to support the ordinance. Even reaching for the phone presents a distraction and a danger, although Luceno said he's done it before, too.
"I am just as guilty as others. I violate good sense sometimes, and I'll answer my cellphone," Luceno said.
But he's ready to see the ban in place, and Luceno, a former councilman himself, is ready to finally see eye to eye with this crop of elected officials: "Before I die, I want to agree with this council on something."
As written, the ordinance includes several exemptions. It allows emergency responders, those reporting an emergency, commercial drivers using two-way radios and licensed amateur radio operators using two-way radios to use their equipment while driving.
At the meeting, Ed Nesselroad thanked the council for the exemption for amateur radio operators. He has seen drivers blowing through stop signs and red lights, and he thinks the ordinance is on target, especially the exception for radios.
"As we say in amateur radio, when all else fails, amateur radio doesn't," Nesselroad said.
(c) 2012 The Missoulian
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