Montana became the only state where texting while driving is permitted for some drivers after a new law banning the practice took effect in South Carolina this week. Montana still allows some drivers to send text messages while driving, in direct contravention of highway safety laws.
Mike Tooley, the State Department of Transport Director, said on Wednesday that while he is aware that Montana needs a general ban on texting while driving, the state has never been that interested in promoting road safety and had left that job to municipalities.
“I am disappointed that once again we’re last to take something regarding highway safety seriously,” Tooley said.
According to the department, at least 12 ordinances ban texting behind the wheel in Montana; using the phone behind the wheel led to at least 1,614 crashes in the years 2004-2013.
Of the states, 45 ban texting completely while driving for people of all ages, while states like Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas only forbid texting for young drivers and for some bus drivers.
In Arizona, for example, cellphone use while driving is only illegal for bus drivers.
Even though lawmakers in Montana have proposed legislation to ban texting while driving in recent years, none of those proposals actually stuck, leading to situation the state finds itself in today.
Democratic state Sen. Christine Kaufmann of Helena said she will propose a similar bill during the 2015 legislative session, but hopes that other lawmakers will take the initiate and lead the way to safer roads.
“We should be embarrassed. It would be good to have consistency across the state. The focus should be on driving, not talking.” Kaufmann said.
It remains to be seen what action legislators in the state of Montana will take in the coming months to try and bring a complete ban on texting while driving. What is for sure is that something needs to be done, and done quickly.