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Shelby City Council members met on Monday, Nov. 18, and the main item of discussion was a cell phone ban while driving. Robyn Kimmet, Sheriff Donna Whitt and Bob Winney were in attendance on behalf of the Toole County Transportation Safety Committee/DUI Task Force to explain why they feel the ban is needed.

“The Transportation Committee brought this proposal years ago,” said Whitt. “There was minimal response when the proposal ran in the City newsletter, and most of it was negative. Now we’ve gone with a different approach, teaching about distracted driving, and we think the education has hit an end stop. The only way to get people to pay attention is to do more. It’s not a matter of if, but when, there will be a tragedy. We want to be proactive.”

Kimmet provided some data to the Council, pointing out Montana is currently the only state in the nation without a statewide law restricting the use of cell phones in some form. 

“Texting is the most common distracted driving problem,” said Kimmet. “You could literally miss towns along the Hi-Line if you are texting while driving.”

Kimmet said a recent Community Assessment survey showed many of those polled are concerned with distracted driving and find it a big problem. Over 60 percent of those participating in the survey shared a  concern when it came to cell phones in vehicles.

“The schools also participate in Youth Risk surveys every two years,” said Kimmet. “We did one this year at Sunburst and Shelby and a high percentage of students say they are using their cell phones while driving on a daily basis.”

“This deals with adults, not just kids,” added Winney. “There’s been times on an ambulance call that we get to the bottom of the viaduct, with lights and sirens, and someone is sitting there texting and not moving. There’s been a lot more of it I’ve noticed over the past six months. I watch people go by the ambulance shed and they’re looking down at their phones. We’ve responded to texting and driving accidents. Someone is really going to get hurt.”

Whitt explained with the ordinance the penalty would be civil, no points would be put against someone’s driver’s license, but that the penalty needs to be more than just a $20 fine.

“It costs us more to write this ticket and it won’t be effective if people can just hand over $20,” said Whitt. “We think there should be a minimum and maximum fine, and with subsequent times it increases. It would be a primary offense, meaning we could pull someone over if we see them on their phone.”

Whitt also stressed younger people in the community, elementary age students, are also concerned with their older peers and adults being on their phones while driving.

“If you haven’t read the awesome article in the Promoter about the grade school kids and what they’ve noticed, you should,” said Whitt. “They are watching, they do notice, and they are concerned.”

Council member Joe Flesch shared his concern with such an ordinance, stating in Canada just eating chips in the vehicle can get you a distracted driving ticket.

“If we do this with cell phones, do we need to do this with everything? If we start nitpicking, well, it’s all distracted driving,” he said.

Whitt nodded in agreement, but stated, “We need to start somewhere.”

“You can correlate increases in severity and crashes since cell phones came,” added Kimmet. “Chips and soda have always been in cars, and yes, distracting, but there has been a definite increase since cell phones.”

Flesch agreed and stated, “I’m not totally against it, but I’m not for it either.”

The Council decided to discuss the issue more and have City Attorney Bill Hunt redraft the ordinance with penalties and then have the first reading at the Dec. 2 meeting.

The Council discussed the Tesla charging station the electric car company is wanting in Shelby. Tesla advised they can’t provide a direct payment to the City of Shelby for the land used for the charging station, but could do something, such as paving the lot where it would be located.

“The recycling area, the five lots there, where the storm drain pipes were stored, that’s the area they are looking at,” said Mayor McDermott. “They offered to pave there, but then they wouldn’t do anything as form of payment again.”

Flesch said he wasn’t really on board with this, especially when there is a local gas station right next door that pays taxes.

“Tesla charging stations get reimbursements from the government,” said City Finance Officer Jade Goroski. “But the City wouldn’t get any. They would only pay once, by paving. Should we just offer to sell the land if they want it?”

The Council agreed that sounded like a better solution and that should be the option given to Tesla and go from there.

The next City Council meeting is slated for Monday, Dec. 2, starting at 6:30 p.m., at City Hall. These meetings are open to the public.

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