Talking or texting on cellphones while driving in Havre could soon bring stiff penalties.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, the Ordinance Committee looked at a first draft of a new ordinance to ban the use of handheld electronic devices in cars.
In crafting the draft, details from similar ordinances in Billings and Missoula were considered. In the end, the committee went for a stronger, more Billings-influenced, bill in which cellphone use would become a primary offense.
That means that officers could pull over any drivers they see talking or texting on a cellphone and give them a ticket that could result in a fine of up to $500 and six months in jail.
Additionally, any accident found to be involving cellphone use could lead to a citation under this new law, in addition to careless driving charges.
Havre City Council will hold a public forum to provide information and seek input on the law before their next meeting, at 6 p. m. on Monday, April 18.
Councilwoman Pam Hillery said at the meeting that it would be important to have cellphone use be deemed a primary offense, because, otherwise, it might be useless.
Fellow council member Allen “Woody” Woodwick has been at all of the committee meetings on the issue to offer his support, after his motorcycle was hit by a driver that was using a cellphone. He required surgery in his neck and on his spine.
“I read the ordinance, and I liked it a bunch, ” Woodwick said. “I thought it was well written and comprehensive.
“And it’s always good to have Billings do the homework for us. ”
Val Murri, the first to raise the cellphone issue to the Ordinance Committee last year, was also at the meeting and feels that the ordinance will help make the community safer.
“I think it’s a hazard, ” Murri said. “It’s a serious distraction — people trying to drive and talking on their cellphones all the time. ”
Hands-free devices are allowed under the ordinance.
If the ordinance passes through the City Council, where it should make its debut at the Monday, May 2, meeting, the city would place signs on roads coming into Havre and throughout town to alert people to the new law.