Columbia Police Department advises against cell phone ordinance

Monday, October 15, 2007 | 5:08 p.m. CDT; updated 12:01 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department is suggesting that the City Council not proceed with developing an ordinance to make using cell phones while driving illegal in a report submitted at Monday’s council meeting.

“Research that we did indicated that there aren’t any very effective ordinances dealing with that issue,” Police Chief Randy Boehm said.

The department was directed to conduct research regarding any link between traffic crashes and using a cell phone while driving, Boehm said, after Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade proposed the study in August. The department was also asked to find similar legislation in other parts of the state and country.

Boehm said ordinances in other communities aren’t effective because they aren’t enforced proactively, meaning people aren’t stopped just for using cell phones. And in Columbia, the department doesn’t have enough time or workforce to make traffic stops related to cell phones, he said.

“We are already very busy with other issues on our plate,” Boehm said.

The department was also unable to find data definitely linking traffic crashes and cell phone usage, Boehm said, and he could only speculate that cell phones were the cause of some crashes. There are all kinds of inattention problems that occur while driving and, cell phones are a part of that, he said.

Wade proposed the study, because he said he believes that talking on the phone while driving is dangerous and a safety threat to everyone.

“I will probably not push it now,” Wade said.

The ordinance Wade would have proposed would make using a cell phone while driving illegal unless a hands-free headset was used, “and even that to me is barely acceptable because driving is a full-time activity,” Wade said.

Wade said he thinks the issue will come up again in Columbia as more places do something about it.

“It needs to be handled at the level of the state, not the city,” he said.

According to the report, some larger cities in the U.S. have banned cell phone usage while driving, including New York, Chicago and Detroit. The only community in Missouri with such a ban is Cottleville in St. Charles County.

Illinois, North Carolina and Washington have laws prohibiting cell phones for younger drivers, usually those under the age of 18, according to the report. However, officers in these states advised the law is rarely enforced, the report said.

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