Missouri becomes 49th state to ban all-age texting and driving. Will it help?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

If a police officer, sheriff's deputy, state trooper or any other member of Missouri law enforcement catches you looking into your lap as you're speeding or breaking another form of the law while behind the wheel, get ready for heftier fines.

The Show Me State's new distracted driving law takes effect Monday after Governor Mike Parson's recent ban on hands-on phone use while driving. Like Missouri's seatbelt law, it will serve as a secondary violation, meaning the officer can't stop the driver for only breaking the new rule.

Parson signed a bill last month that would restrict the use of the device by any means — including texting, reading, speaking, posting broadcasting, viewing or scrolling — if the phone is in the driver's hand.

Hands-free phone use, such as Bluetooth technology that is available in most modern vehicles, is allowed.

Before the recent bill, Missouri's law banned texting and driving for drivers 21 and under. It was one of just two states (Montana being the other ) that didn't have a set law for adults dangerously thumbing through their phone while navigating roadways.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol believes that new hands-free law can serve as a deterrent.

"Perhaps it is the public’s perception that having a hand-held device while driving is no longer socially/culturally acceptable, especially when blue tooth and similar readily available applications allow us to communicate hands free," said MSHP Troop D spokesman Mike McClure, who oversees southwest Missouri.

Distracted driving has become a common cause of serious and fatal accidents in the Ozarks since the introduction of smart phones. More than 800 people have been killed in Missouri since 2014, according to a AAA study.

"The seat belt law is secondary in Missouri for many occupants but we have almost a 90 percent usage rate," McClure said of seatbelts. "If we could have 90 percent of the people not using hand-held devices, that would significantly reduce the number of distracted driving crashes that we see in Missouri each year."

MSHP said it will only issue warnings until 2025 in an effort to educate the public before enforcement and give drivers time buy the proper hands-free devices if they don't already have them.

"Those who continue to use hand-held devices can and will be addressed through enforcement efforts," McClure said. "The act specifies penalties for violations of this law, including enhanced penalties for repeat offenders, violations occurring in work zones where workers are present, school zones and violations that are the proximate cause of property damage, physical injury or death. "

Penalties won't start until 2025, but a first-time violation will result in a fine of up to $150 and can increase up to $500 for repeat convictions within a two-year period. Additional penalties can occur depending on the incident.

AAA noted that Missouri is the 28th state to require hands-free use for drivers of all ages and the 49th state to prohibit manually texting and driving.

In the city limits, members of the Springfield Police Department see drivers staring into their devices while maneuvering through traffic on a daily basis.

"Now that it is illegal, it is our hope that most drivers will comply with the law, reducing distractions and helping to prevent crashes, injuries and fatalities," said SPD spokeswoman Cris Swaters.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Missouri becomes 49th state to ban all-age texting and driving