It appears that Montana's distracted driving laws may be having an impact on the state's drivers. During the first year of a state-wide cell phone ban behind the wheel, Bozeman police have stopped nearly 500 drivers and ticketed 106 people because of violations. The law is designed to prevent car accidents that are often caused by inattentive driving, many of which lead to fatalities on Montana roads.
Authorities report that most people were given warnings after they were pulled over, largely because the law was new and some drivers were unaware of its existence. As the law becomes more established, officers anticipate giving fewer warnings, instead preferring to hit drivers where it hurts the most: their pocketbooks.
Still, accident rate information from the state shows that the law has had little effect on Montana's car crash numbers. The number of accidents on Montana roads in 2012 closely parallels those from 2011 and 2010, according to authorities. Authorities say they are still unsure about the effectiveness of the law, which requires drivers to use hands-free devices while driving their vehicle.
Drivers may use their cell phones in their vehicles if they are pulled over to the side of the road or parked while using the hand-held device.
Multiple studies have shown that hands-free devices do not improve drivers' abilities to operate vehicles. Hands-free conversation on a phone still provides a significant amount of cognitive distraction, a problem that is caused by the mental load of talking to another person on the phone. Montana's new law may ultimately have little effect on even distracted driving incidence rates, largely because of the scientific fact that the only way to stop such accidents is to remove the phone from the car entirely.
It is not clear whether Montana's laws prohibit texting and driving, a far more serious problem. Drivers who text remove their focus from driving entirely for seconds at a time, which can cause massive wrecks when traveling at highway speeds.
Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, "Bozeman issues 106 tickets in first year of cellphone law," Amanda Ricker, Feb. 21, 2013.