Montana laws in effect Oct. 1 cover left lane use, use of license plate readers

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/29/2017

Two new laws taking effect in Montana are intended to reduce instances of road rage and to address privacy concerns of vehicle tracking devices.

The first new law requires drivers on roadways with at least two lanes of traffic in one direction to stay to the right.

Instances when it is permissible to travel in the left lane include overtaking and passing another vehicle, when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow, and when moving left to allow traffic to merge.

Supporters, including OOIDA and the National Motorists Association, say that blocking the left lane, whether intentional or not, results in reduced road safety and efficiency.

Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, said earlier this year during discussion on the bill in the statehouse that it is intended to reduce road rage.

“Have you ever seen or heard from someone who’s got a little bit of road rage because they have been boxed in, or a vehicle won’t get over? I have,” Morigeau testified. “These are not just mere annoyances. These are dangerous events that are easily preventable with just a little bit of clarification in law. It will result in safer roads for all of us.”

Although existing state law addresses left lane use, Morigeau says that law enforcement in certain counties do not even ticket violators because of uncertainty about wording in the rule.

The new law clarifies what is and is not permissible when using the left lane.

Exceptions to the lane rule would be made for situations that include traveling on a roadway – not including interstates – within a city or town. Other exceptions cover situations that include preparing to turn left or to avoid an obstruction or hazardous condition.

Automatic license plate readers
The practice of tracking drivers’ movements through automatic license plate readers, or ALPRs, is the subject of another new law taking effect the first of October. The devices are mounted on police vehicles, road signs or traffic lights.

High-tech cameras to capture the date, time and location that scanned vehicles passed are used in some capacity by about 600 local and state police departments and other state and federal agencies, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Private business, such as repossession companies and vehicle insurance companies, also use the technology that can capture about 1,800 images per minute.

Critics say use of the scanners amounts to warrantless searches. Supporters say the scanners are not intended to infringe on peoples’ privacy.

To date, at least 14 states have enacted rules relating to the use of ALPRs. Among the group, there are six states to place restrictions on government or law enforcement use of the technology. Eight states limit how long data can be kept, and four states specify that data is exempt under public records laws.

The new Montana law limits the use of license plate readers.

Specifically, state personnel are prohibited from using the devices on public roadways. Law enforcement agencies in Big Sky Country will be allowed to use ALPRs for purposes that include identifying stolen vehicles, locating vehicles involved in “major” crimes, locating missing persons, and “case-specific investigative surveillance.”

Law enforcement is prohibited to keep data collected for more than 90 days without a request for extension or warrant.

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