COLUMBIA FALLS, Mont. - Columbia Falls Police officers have started using unmarked cars to track down drivers violating the city's cell phone ordinance. Back in August, the city council passed an ordinance prohibiting drivers from talking on cell phones without hands-free devices while driving. The law also includes texting, and the use of other mobile communications devices not outfitted with hands-free modifications.
Columbia Falls Police Chief Dave Perry submitted a memo to the city council in late November explaining the effectiveness of unmarked vehicles in the enforcing of the ordinance.
NBC Montana went for a ride-along with Officer Gary Stanberry on Thursday. Stanberry explained that the use of unmarked vehicles during enforcement is part of a larger effort to keep drivers safe. He pointed out that two people drove off the road into the Flathead River while apparently using cell phones before the ordinance was passed.
"Most of them are apologetic," said Stanberry, discussing folks who get pulled over for violating the rule. "They're like… ‘I knew there was a law but…," or, well, some of them say they don't know and I do explain that it was published in not only the news, in the media, but there are large posted signs…"
NBC Montana spoke with one driver off camera who said using unmarked vehicles seemed a bit unfair, but Stanberry says folks who don't want to get caught shouldn't be ignoring the rules in the first place.
One man NBC Montana spoke with lives in the North Fork area, but travels through Columbia Falls occasionally. He said he used a phone on his way through recently, but didn't know it was against the law. He said the law is a reasonable one designed to keep people safe.
"When I drive with my parents, I could see just how much of a distraction it is" said North Fork resident Tom Franchini.
So, while the method may have mixed reactions, officers insist it's all to keep drivers safe, even if it means a hit to the wallet or a trip to court.
First time offenders are required to pay up to $100 in fines.