Arizona became the 48th state in the union recently to enact a statewide ban on texting while driving. It joins 47 other states that have banned texting while driving and 17 others that have banned all handheld device use. That leaves just two that have not at least banned texting while driving — Missouri and Montana.

Arizona enacted the law after years of trying. Conservative lawmakers resisted the measure arguing it overregulates behavior and contributes to the creation of a “nanny state.” The death of a police officer killed by a distracted driver — along with stories of others who have died in distracted driving accidents — finally carried the day.

Montana is often on the fringe of many state comparisons. This one is one of the most embarrassing. Even notoriously libertarian states like Alaska, Wyoming and Texas have banned texting while driving. And yet Montana has not.

There is overwhelming evidence that using a handheld cellphone for calling or texting is dangerous — more dangerous than driving drunk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,166 people died in distracted driving accidents in 2017 alone.

Most Montana cities have banned the practice — including Bozeman. But those ordinances are frequently ignored. On a drive around Bozeman on any given day, multiple drivers can be spotted with a phone to their ear. Responsible drivers who witness this behavior are left to wonder, what’s so important it can’t wait until you come to a stop?

A statewide ban on using handheld devices while driving would help emphasize the message that doing so can be deadly. Using a handheld cellphone for calling or texting while driving is a selfish act. Each driver who does so absolves her or his self with the idea that they are different, that they — unlike inferior drivers — will not be driven to dangerous distraction that will endanger others.

The Montana Legislature is about to adjourn, and it’s too late to enact a ban this year. But a law to ban all handheld cellphone use while driving needs to be at the top of the to-do list for lawmakers when they meet in 2021.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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