Missouri bill would limit drivers' cell phone use

| 2/9/2007

A Missouri House lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require people in the state to keep their hands off their phones while they are behind the wheel.

Sponsored by Rep. Talibdin El-Amin, D-St. Louis, the bill would mandate 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 be permitted.

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

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

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. In 2008, California is slated to implement its own rule. Other states also are looking into implementing their own rules.

However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting for drivers. 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.

In fact, research by the University of North Carolina determined that cell-phone use ranked eighth in terms of distraction, The Patriot-News reported.

El-Amin's bill - HB317 - is awaiting assignment to committee.