Missouri is one of two states where texting and driving is legal
MISSOURI - Everyone knows texting and driving can be dangerous, but many people don't know that it's perfectly legal for most Missouri drivers.
Only two states in the nation do not have laws against texting and driving for all drivers: Missouri and Montana.
Adrienne Siddens lost her husband Randall in a distracted driving crash in 2019. He was struck by a driver using FaceTime at the time of the crash. Adrienne is now an advocate for distracted driving legislation. She hopes other drivers understand the impact of this issue.
"I just want people to understand the severity of what could happen in a matter of a second, whenever you aren't paying attention," she said.
In Missouri, texting and driving is against the law for drivers 21 and under, and for commercial drivers. There are more than half a dozen bills in the General Assembly looking to change that.
All of those eight bills have been referred to the Downsizing State Government committee. They make up half of the bills the committee is currently handling.
This is not a new discussion for Missouri. Texting and driving legislation has been proposed for several years.
Rep. Gretchen Bangert (D-Florissant) is a longtime supporter of a texting ban. She says she's hopeful for better results this time around.
"I've introduced legislation at least the last four years, along with several of my colleagues. Unfortunately, that has never been referred to committee. So I'm excited that this year is has been referred to committee," she said.
Bangert sponsors House Bill 110. The bill would prohibit cell phone use for all drivers, unless it is being used in a hands-free manner. It is similar in substance to several of the other bills in committee.
House Bill 103
One may wonder why Missouri hasn't yet adopted this type of law. Pollitt says he believes it is a matter of personal rights.
"I think Missouri is one of the most conservative personal rights states, and I support that," he said.
For distracted driving advocates, that argument doesn't hold water. Ron Bentch is the Chairman of the Hands-Free Missouri Coalition. He says rights are not the problem.
"They don't have the right to endanger other people's lives, and that's what's so hard about this. When people choose to look at their cell phone, they're putting other people's lives in danger," he said.
Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove (D-Kansas City) echoes those concerns.
"My fear is that... it turns into a public health issue. I can see accidents going up, and injuries going up," she said.
Manlove also sponsors a texting bill, House Bill 798. The bill would eliminate the age provision and extend the texting ban to all drivers. She says the state needs to extend the law now, to adjust to changing times.
House Bill 798
"It was previously thought that because, you know, older people didn't necessarily know how to work cell phones, and it was kind of a new concept to them, that it wasn't something that was going to really affect them. But now that my grandmother is texting, it's something that needs to be applied to everyone across the board," Manlove said.
Both Manlove and Bangert are hopeful that these bills will receive hearings this session. Just because a bill gets a hearing, doesn't mean it will pass.
"It normally takes a bill about seven years to actually pass once it's had its first hearing. So this will be good in starting those conversations," Manlove said.
Bangert says the sheer number of bills on this subject shows its importance.
"That tells me that it's an important issue for everyone. I think everyone has been affected somehow, some way, or knows someone that has been involved in an accident with texting and driving. They know this is an important issue and it will help save lives in our state," she said.
Pollitt's bill is the most narrow of the bunch, but he says he would consider going further.
"I think I would be open to that concept, of hand-held devices if you're gonna text and drive, and I'm as guilty as anybody. I'm not gonna say I'm not," he said.
All three lawmakers KOMU 8 spoke with admitted to using their phones behind the wheel in the past. Manlove urges Missourians to hold one another accountable.
"Like we say for law enforcement- if you see something, say something. I think we'll all be better for it," she said.
Adrienne Siddens agrees.
"It's my family, obviously, now, but it could very easily be your family... when you see it happening, just say something."
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