Rep. Trebas: Cell Phone Bans Don’t Work

Rep. Jeremy Trebas
Rep. Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls

Rep. Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls (HD-25), submitted to us testimony he will add to to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, January 17, at 8:00 a.m. Here is the full text:

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,

Today I am presenting a unique bill to you, House Bill number 194. It is unique because it goes in the opposite direction of most if not all other governments, State and Local, in the U.S., on the topic of cell phone use while driving. While most are getting harsher in their penalties for driving while using a cell phone, this bill proposes that we stop the enforcement of cell phone bans, at least until they are shown to be effective in protecting public safety.

Why should we put a stay on the bans? The short answer is that they don’t really seem to be working, meanwhile cities are charging citizens large fines and in at least one city in Montana, instituting mandatory community service for 2nd and 3rd offenses, at 20 hours and 40 hours respectively.

I have some statistics from a recurring study to present to you, which serves largely as the basis for my argument to take a wait-and-see approach as far as bans are concerned. The study is conducted by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They are the organization that you hear quoted in commercials about vehicle crash data. They give out the “Top Safety Pick” awards to vehicle manufacturers. I think you will find them to be an unbiased and reputable source of information. Their studies have indicated no discernible difference in collision rates prior to and post bans in States that have made cell phone use illegal while driving. In fact, one of their studies indicated a slight increase in collision rates post ban. There is speculation as to why that happened, and two main reasons stick out. One reason is that people try to hide the activity by lowering their phone down into their vehicle to avoid detection, causing their eyes to be further from the road than they otherwise would be. The second reason is that while the bans decrease use of cell phones among law abiding citizens, the bad drivers out there are just going to continue being bad drivers. So again, collision rates do not decrease because of these bans. I’ve heard the argument that we just have to give them time to work. I would tell you that the study I referenced was first published in 2009, and then they ran tests again and published another study in 2011, and yet again in 2013, with increased special enforcement in their most recent study. If these bans were working, there should have been an indication by now, proven out by the statistics.

I would also like to say that I know unbanning an activity that is dangerous makes some of you uncomfortable. I get that, and I understand that being distracted while driving is dangerous and there are also studies and statistics that point that out, which I acknowledge. But we are picking one small area of distracted driving and saying that it is the worst form, while numerous other distracted driving activities go unenforced. There is already a law on the books to enforce distracted driving, we don’t need a special category just for cell phones, which as I hope I have made clear, just doesn’t work to increase the safety of the public, however counter-intuitive that may seem.

So, some questions I have received in the 4 years I’ve been making this argument include, things like, “How about just a texting ban?”

The studies from IIHS included the study of texting while driving, and banning it only seemed to cause people to try and hide the activity, by further lowering their phone and their eyes down into the vehicle and away from the road. It didn’t help reduce collision rates.

Or “Why can’t people just use a Bluetooth/Handsfree device?”

It is not the device, necessarily, that distracts a person, it is the conversation. While engaging in conversation, whether it is with a person inside the vehicle or on the phone, the brain switches to a part of the brain called the parietal lobe, which takes away some of the focus necessary for driving. So it is not the device that distracts you but the conversation. It is still legal to have someone sit next to you in the vehicle and distract you by talking. It’s also legal to have kids fighting in the back seat. Sometimes talking on the phone helps mitigate greater distractions while driving.

Some people ask whether I have ever received a ticket for driving on my cell phone?

No. The City of Great Falls instituted their ban in August of 2012 and I have not received a ticket. I’m a fine, upstanding, law abiding citizen, most of the time…

And lastly, “Don’t we have more important things to work on?”

Yes and no. There are more important issues to work on, but this issue is important to those that are receiving fines and community service sentences in the name of public safety, when no increase in public safety has actually occurred.

Thanks for your attention Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I’ll field any questions you may have, and I reserve the right to close.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Rep. Trebas,
    Do you have any statistics regarding how many cell phone use fines occur in any Montana city on a monthly or yearly basis?

    Thank you.

    • Here is a report from the City, that was part of the extra info presented in the City of Great Falls meeting where they decided to double the initial fine, on 11/01/2016. The link is at: https://greatfallsmt.net/sites/default/files/fileattachments/city_commission/meeting/packets/96081/ar20161101-11-ph_ord3146_amend_occgf_cell_phone_driving_penalty.pdf

      On page three.

      “Municipal Court records dating back to 2013 indicate a large number of citations being issued
      for violations of the above cited OCCGF provision. In 2013, the total number of citations filed
      in Great Falls Municipal Court totaled 286. In 2014, the citations totaled 811. In 2015, the
      number of citations totaled 761. As of September 20, 2016, the number of citations totaled 883.
      These statistics indicate the number of violations have increased over the last several years.
      These statistics also indicate the number of citations written for a violation of this provision
      could surpass 1000 for 2016. Great Falls Police Department highly discourages the issuing of
      warnings for violating this OCCGF section. Notwithstanding, these numbers do not take into
      account any warnings which may have been issued by law enforcement for violation of the
      OCCGF provision.”

  2. In the January 16, 2017 edition of the Great Falls Tribune – http://greatfallstribune.mt.newsmemory.com/?token=3f454af8b1bc01aaeeb202c983079c0d&cnum=3045378&fod=1111111STD&selDate=20170116&licenseType=none& – this comment was made by Mayor Bob Kelly with regard to the cellphone ban:

    “I’m very much in favor of it,” he said. “My goal in putting it in place was to alert the community and others who visit Great Falls that we insist on safe driving habits”.

    Hmm. The ban was approved by a 4-1 vote on July 3, 2012 – https://greatfallsmt.net/sites/default/files/fileattachments/city_commission/meeting/75571/070312_min.pdf.

    According to these minutes, Mayor Kelly was not only not yet a member of the Commission, he was not even reported as speaking in favor of the ban at the public hearing. How then had he been involved with putting it in place?

    This same Tribune article also reports Mayor Kelly as saying the ban is not a money maker, but the same article also reports the number of tickets written and the range of fine amounts. So how is it that this ban is not a money maker?

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