Missouri, Florida pursue ‘texting’ bans while driving

| 12/7/2009

With the first of the year only a few weeks away, more and more lawmakers from around the country are hopping aboard the bandwagon in hopes of eliminating texting while driving from distractions while at the wheel.

That trend is only likely to intensify in the coming months.

Among the states to aggressively pursue legislation for their 2010 session are the Show-Me and Sunshine states.

Several Missouri lawmakers have prefiled legislation for consideration next year that would prohibit drivers from texting. With certain exceptions, state law already bans those 21 years old and younger from sending messages while driving.

The Missouri Department of Transportation recently banned its employees from texting while operating motor vehicles. The ban also applies to employees who are driving their personal vehicles on-the-job.

One of the Missouri bills, which can be considered during the session that opens Jan. 6, would bar texting on paved roads but take a hands-off approach on gravel roads.

In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist has endorsed the pursuit of a statewide ban on texting while driving. The support has spurred lawmakers to prefile more than a dozen bills for consideration during the regular session that convenes in March.

Among the bills filed are efforts that would include limits on cell phone use while another bill would affect only drivers under 18 years.

Despite the obvious complexities with enforcement, attempts nationwide to curb the practice of using electronic devices for texting while driving have intensified this year. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has spurred increased interest in efforts to put a stop to use of the technology. Researchers found that drivers are more than 23 times as likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash while texting at the wheel.

In all, 19 states have acted to limit distractions from texting. And there are estimates that as many as half of all other states could adopt their own limits during the next year.

The topic of texting also is receiving attention in Congress. One congressional effort would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while driving or do without 25 percent of their federal highway funds.

A similar piece of legislation would include a restriction on cell phone use with the ban on texting while driving. This version would dole out $30 million in grants to states that pass laws to curb distracted driving.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation to help reduce distracted driving.

The Association would like to see more ride-alongs with law enforcement agencies. OOIDA says the experience allows officers to sit in the cab and see firsthand how people drive around trucks. Such programs could also lead to better enforcement of existing traffic laws.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri in 2009, click here. To view other legislative activities of interest for Florida in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.