Bills target texting while driving

A ban against texting while driving could be extended to all drivers under several bills discussed Tuesday at a Missouri House Transportation Committee hearing.

Current state law prohibits individuals 21 years and younger from doing so.

“How we go about education and getting this done is difficult to navigate,” said Rep. Dave Schatz, chair of the committee.

Five texting-while-driving bills were presented to the committee.

Rep. Michele Kratky, D-St. Louis, presented a bill to establish the Fair Fare Passenger Safety Act of 2014 — prohibiting a driver who is receiving compensation for transporting a passenger from using a hand-held device.

A driver would only be violating the law if the vehicle is moving.

Kratky also introduced a bill that seeks to prohibit anyone from sending, reading or writing a text message on an electronic device while driving, with the exception to voice-recognition, hands-free texting.

“The brain cannot perform two complex tasks at the same time,” Kratky said. “It switches from one task to the next and every millisecond counts.”

Two other lawmakers introduced bills that would prohibit everyone — regardless of age — from sending, reading or writing text messages from hand-held, electronic devices while driving.

Rep. Keith English, a sponsor of one of the bills, said not texting while driving can become a habit.

“We were all victims of not wanting and rebelling wearing seat belts,” he said. “Now it’s just become habit.”

No one testified in opposition to the texting-while-driving bills. Supporters believe the bills would move Missouri in the right direction.

Col. Ron Replogle, superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol, said statistics show that distraction by texting while driving makes drivers 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash.

In 2012, he said 89 crashes in Missouri were due to inattention because of things like texting while driving.

“I think this bill sends the right message to the public,” Replogle said. “I think it will cause some people to put their phones up.”

Rep. Don Gosen, R-Ballwin, also presented a texting-while-driving bill similar to English and Rep. Rory Ellinger’s, but Gosen’s inflicts harsher punishments.

English, Ellinger and Kratky’s bills give infractions — like those put on someone’s record for speeding— for texting while driving.

Gosen’s bill outlines that a first texting-while-driving offense would be a class B misdemeanor and suspension of a driver’s license for 30 days, the second would be a class A misdemeanor with a minimum of five days in prison, and a third offense would be a class D felony and a minimum of 10 days in prison.

“This, to me, has got some fangs in it,” committee member Rep. Don Phillips said of the bill. “It looks to me that this is way over the top.”

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