Montana’s Laws on Distracted Driving and Cell Phones

Each year in Montana, hundreds of people are seriously injured in auto and trucking accidents as a direct result of distracted drivers who talk and/or text on their cell phones.  This has become such a serious problem that numerous cities across Montana have implemented ordinances banning the use of hand held devices while driving.  The ordinances generally apply to everyone except governmental fire agencies, law enforcement agencies, emergency responders and other authorized vehicles.  Several of the cities that have enacted cell phone bans are Great Falls, Billings, Columbia Falls, Whitefish, Helena, Bozeman, Missoula, and Butte.  Given the continued high incidence of auto and trucking accidents associated with cell phone use and distracted driving, it is very likely numerous other cities will follow suit and implement bans of their own.

The Great Falls City Commission first banned the use of cell phones while driving in August 2012.  Although the original ordinance did have some effect in reducing the number of accidents caused by distracted driving, the Commission felt additional penalties needed to be imposed in order to further discourage the use of hand held devices and thus passed an ordinance increasing the minimum fines after each offense involving the use of a cell phone or other electronic device while driving or riding a bike.  The new ordinance also adds possible punishments of community service or losing a driver’s license and license plates for repeat offenders.  

Federal motor carrier regulations also prohibit the use of cell phones while driving.  A recent rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration restricts the use of all hand-held mobile devices by drivers of commercial motor vehicles and imposes stiff fines and penalties for those drivers and employers who fail to comply with the rule.  In order to comply with the rule, a driver must either use an earpiece or the speaker phone function, voice-activated dialing, or the hands-free feature.  When using the hands-free feature, a driver must have his mobile phone located where he is able to initiate, answer or terminate a call by touching a single button.    

Despite the efforts by some state legislators over the course of the last 14 years to ban the use of hand held devices while driving, the Montana state legislature has repeatedly defeated those bills making Montana the only state in the country without some sort of ban on cell phone use while driving. The main arguments against implementing a ban on cell phone use while driving are that such a ban limits freedom and is nothing more than a mechanism by the State to increase revenue.  Although there is little if any evidence to support those arguments, they have consistently carried the day every time such legislation has been proposed.  

The experienced attorneys at the law firm of Hoyt and Blewett have represented numerous individuals who have been injured in auto and trucking accident cases caused by drivers who were distracted by the use of cell phones.  At fault parties frequently deny they were using their cell phone at the time of the accident, and thus the only way to discover whether they were talking and/or texting prior to causing the collision is to obtain a copy of their cell phone records, either through a subpoena or through the discovery process after the case has been filed.  It is critically important to request that the insurance carrier for the at fault driver preserve all cell phone records from the date of the accident.  If the identity of the at fault driver’s cell phone carrier is known, it is possible to send to a preservation letter directly to the cell phone carrier to ensure the records are not destroyed.  If preservation letters or subpoenas are not issued in a timely manner, it is possible that cell phone records will be purged, and your case will be compromised.  If you suspect that you were injured in an auto accident by a driver who was distracted by texting or talking on a cell phone, it is critical to immediately retain a Montana injury attorney to help preserve these cell phone records.