Drivers who use cellphones will have to watch themselves, lest they are being watched.
After months of discussion and drafting of a cellphone ban ordinance, the Havre City Council voted at Monday’s meeting to approve the final reading of law five to three.
Council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick voted for the bill with Robert Kaftan, Bob Kaul, Cal Long and Pam Hillery.
“I am glad to see it finally pass,” Woodwick said. “If we can get some of the accidents prevented, then that’s the ultimate goal.”
He also said that he didn’t understand parts of some of the arguments presented by the half-dozen opponents of the ordinance that came to speak against it.
“I find it peculiar that everyone started their talks saying that it is unsafe and a problem,” Woodwick said. “If it’s a problem of enforcement, that’s not a reason not to pass it.”
For council member Janet Trethewey, who voted against the ordinance with Andrew Brekke and Gerry Veis, the law seemed redundant.
She said that the city already has a careless driving law that would address a wider spectrum of problems, including eating or smoking while driving or driving with distractions like pets in a vehicle.
Brekke said after the meeting that the decision was a “disgrace” and “beyond our little city.”
He said that a letter sent to the council by Interim Chief of Police Gabe Matosich contained enough of an argument against the ordinance.
“First of all, I would like to point out that there are numerous variables or factors that need to be considered,” Matosich said in the letter. “Secondly, in analyzing and reporting the data, the results would not make a convincing argument for the ordinance.”
One of the factors the letter mentions is how rarely a driver in an accident will be honest in a police report about cellphone usage.
That said, he attached a chart of cellphone related crashes in Havre by year from 2006 to 2010.
In 2006 and 2007, one reported car crash per year listed cellphone use as a contributing factor.
There were none reported in 2008.
Then in 2009 it went up to four and back down to two last year.
Matosich added at the end that 94 car accidents in all of Montana in 2010 showed cellphones as a contributing factor. One of those was fatal
“Because of the different variables and statistical data, I felt it would be better served to conduct a local survey calculating how many drivers are actually using a cellphone while a vehicle is engaged,” Matosich’s letter said.
He said the department kept watch at several intersections, at different times of day, to tally cellphone using drivers, though rainy weather complicated the procedure.
“Nevertheless, it is a starting point.”
According to the report, of 70 vehicles seen on 17th Street by Havre High School from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on May 23, one driver was using a cellphone.
In the same place, at the same time the following May 26, only 7 of the 75 drivers observed were using cellphones.
At 3rd Street and 3rd Avenue, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on that Thursday, 467 drivers were watced. Twenty-nine, the highest number reported, were seen using cellphones.
Council member Hillery said that, after seeing those numbers and hearing Trethewey’s arguments, she was conflicted on the issue, particularly the currently stated steep penalties that could lead to a jail sentence. She said she decided to vote for the ordinance to not split the council vote and leave the decision to Mayor Tim Solomon.
After the meeting, Brekke said that the city now has to worry about potentially costly signage and enforcement, which will be difficult with the primary target of the ordinance, young drivers.
Brekke said he had talked to a student who attended the last council meeting and asked him if this would change his behavior at all.
The student told him he’d just get better at hiding it.