Montana Distracted Driving

(It's more than just not texting.)

Distracted Driving

There are roughly 20,000 car accidents every year in Montana. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

The state of Montana defines distracted driving as “any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract them from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing.”

The three main types of distractions are:

  • Manual: anything that causes you to take your hands off the wheel, like eating, smoking, or reaching for an object
  • Visual: anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road, like looking at a GPS, checking your hair in the review mirror,  or looking at kids in the backseat
  • Cognitive: anything that causes you to take your mind off the task of driving, like having a conversation with a passenger, going over your shopping list in your head, or daydreaming

Every type of distraction increases your risk of committing a moving violation or causing an accident. In Montana, distracted driving, though hazardous, is still totally legal.


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Distracted Driving Statistics in Montana

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Montana:

  • In Montana, there are 2.91 distracted driving deaths per every 10 billion vehicle miles traveled; this is the fifth highest rate in the country.
  • Nationally, an average of 9 people are killed and 1,000 are injured every day in distracted driving accidents.
  • Distracted driving is commonly referred to as “the new drunk driving.”
  • As many as 80% of all car accidents involve some sort of driver distraction.
  • One in three female drivers admits to taking photos while driving.
  • Distracted driving accidents cost society approximately $40 billion a year.

Does Montana Have Laws against Distracted Driving?


Montana is the only state in the US that does not have any statewide laws against distracted driving.

But some cities and counties in this state have enacted their own laws against this risky behavior. It is illegal to text while driving in Butte-Silver Bow and Anaconda-Deer Lodge counties as well as in the following cities:

  • Baker
  • Billings
  • Bozeman
  • Columbia Falls
  • Great Falls
  • Hamilton
  • Helena
  • Missoula
  • Whitefish

Some of these cities also restrict the use of handheld cell phones while driving.

Montana compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But in 2021, newly enacted cell phone restriction laws will go into effect in Arizona.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Montana?


Since there are no laws, there are no exceptions.

Montana Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance

            Yes             No
Is texting while driving legal?                  X                                
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                 X              
Is handheld device use permitted?                 X
Any special restriction for young drivers?
Is headphone/headset use permitted?                 X                

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in Montana?

Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.

There are no laws that prohibit motorists from eating while driving in this state. But drivers should be aware that they are three times more likely to get into an accident when they are engaging in any type of distracting behavior. Plus, you risk getting mustard on your shirt.

Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Whopper indoors or in the parking lot.

What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Montana has no distracted driving laws so this isn’t a factor here. But if you drive into another state that does have laws, chances are good that the state will be using primary enforcement.

This means that even if you're obeying all traffic laws and believe you're in total control of your vehicle while doing so, if a police officer sees you sending a text message or checking your email while driving, you could be pulled over and given a citation.

What's the Fine for Distracted Driving in Montana?


Montana does not penalize drivers for distracted driving. But the few cities that have adopted laws against texting while driving do impose their own penalties, which are typically around $100.

Montana’s fines for distracted driving compared to surrounding states

Montana’s fines for distracted driving compared to surrounding states

Montana also shares a border with three Canadian provinces, and each has its own laws against distracted driving, so make sure the second you cross the border you're following the rules of your new state/province or risk getting a ticket. 

Fines there are as follows: British Columbia, $543 CAD; Alberta, $287 CAD, and Saskatchewan, $280 CAD.

Does Distracted Driving in Montana Increase Insurance Rates?


Because there are no laws against it, distracted driving is not a moving violation and your insurance company won't know about it.

But your chances of causing an accident or committing a moving violation while distracted increase threefold, and these actions can cause an increase in your insurance rates. So it's all up to you, and a good idea, to adopt your own policy for distracted driving avoidance.

What If I Drive into Another State or Canada?

Distracted driving laws vary by state and province, and when you cross that state/country border you are required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states or provinces you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip.

Montana is currently one of only three states where adult drivers are allowed to text behind the wheel. Arizona is one of them, but a new law going into effect in 2021 will make it illegal there as well. This will leave only Montana without laws on the subject.

What Is Montana Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?

In truth, not a lot.

While State Representative Fred Anderson recently tried to convince state lawmakers to prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from texting while driving, his attempt was swiftly defeated in a 64-36 House vote.  This was just one of many unsuccessful attempts to create distracted driving laws over the years.


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So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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