Missouri bills die affecting cell phone use, young drivers

| 6/20/2008

In Missouri, two safety-related measures died during the recently completed legislative session.

A Senate bill stalled in committee that would have required drivers in the state to keep their hands off their phones. Another effort that failed to advance from committee during the recently completed regular session sought to boost the legal driving age for teens.

The first bill – SB887 – would have mandated that drivers put down their hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel. Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free accessory would still have been permitted.

The measure called for making it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – meaning drivers would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. Violators would have faced $20 fines. Repeat offenders would have faced $50 fines.

Among the exemptions listed in the bill were emergency calls and using push-to-talk two-way, or “walkie-talkie,” devices that are popular in the trucking industry.

Supporters of limiting driver distractions point to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency contends that “distractions,” such as cell phones, contribute to as many as 30 percent of all traffic wrecks.

However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting. Opponents of cell phone restrictions also say that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking or changing radio stations while driving.

Others say lawmakers shouldn’t be restricting people in their vehicles.

A separate measure – HB1492 – was intended to improve safety on roadways in the state would boost the legal driving age for teens. It would have increased the legal driving age from 16 to 18 years old. The age for any person to obtain an instruction permit would have been raised from 15 to 17 years old.

To view other legislative activities of interest in Missouri for 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor