Posted: Jun 6, 2012 4:56 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX/KAJ News
Updated: Jun 7, 2012 6:55 AM
HAMILTON - In July, Hamilton drivers will have to go hands-free when making calls from behind the wheel. Hamilton City Council approved Tuesday a ban on driving and talking on the phone within city limits, with a special exception for ham radio operators.
No one showed up to comment during the first hearing last month, but this time the proposal brought several amateur radio operators complaining the ban on "handheld electronic communication devices" could shut them down entirely.
The hams said that wasn't just bad for their hobby, but could put them in a position of breaking the law if they were using their radios to help in emergencies. Some testified that their new equipment is designed to keep eyes on the road.
Amateur radio operator John Mann said the way he uses his radio, it's less distracting than searching for stations on a typical car radio.
"I'm looking straight ahead," Mann said.
Council members agreed with the hams' arguments, and added an exemption for licensed amateur radio operators in addition to people using two-way radios for work or cell phones to report emergencies or calling while parked off the road. Police
are also exempt.
Opponents of the ban questioned whether it would make the city safer for pedestrians, whether the government has the right to ban the use, and how dangerous cell phone use really is.
Council members said the law is a measure of prevention.
"We haven't had any accidents [related to cell phone use] as far as we know," said Al Mitchell, Hamilton city councilman. "But by enacting this ordinance hopefully we will never have to say that we did have that problem."
The ordinance takes effect on July 5th. Hamilton is the smallest city in Montana to ban cell phones on the road.