As Missouri mayors push legislators to enact stricter seat belt and texting and driving laws, some cities are taking action into their own hands.
The Missouri Mayors United for Progress voted Wednesday to ask legislators to enact a primary seat belt law and an all-driver texting ban as part of the Missouri Department of Transportation's Buckle Up/Phone Down campaign, which encourages drivers to wear seat belts and put away their phones.
Missouri has a secondary seat belt law, in which drivers must be pulled over for another violation before they can receive fines for not wearing a seat belt.
However, several Missouri cities and counties have their own primary seat belt ordinances.
Two counties and 56 cities in Missouri have primary seat belt ordinances, covering 26 percent of the Missouri population, according to MoDOT.
Last month, the Springfield City Council enacted such an ordinance after the city's police chief and safety committee encouraged it.
Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said Wednesday that council members who voted for the ordinance agreed the state needs a similar law, as primary seat belt city ordinances apply only for drivers in the city limits.
"We should have had this passed several years ago to be applicable statewide," he said. "It's unfortunate, I think, that we have to move as cities at this point in order to do that."
Jefferson City and Cole County do not have primary seat belt ordinances, but Mayor Carrie Tergin said she might propose one in the future.
She said presented the idea to the city's Public Safety Committee a few years ago but did not receive support at the time.
"It's definitely time to have those conversations again," Tergin said. "As we are asking the state to do the same, and now that other cities like Springfield have enacted an ordinance of their own, it would be worth us looking at that possibility again."
There will be a Buckle Up/Phone Down presentation at Monday's Jefferson City Council meeting.
Tergin has been a strong advocate of banning texting while driving for all ages. Missouri prohibits texting for drivers under 21 years old and is one of three states that does not have an all-texting ban, according to MoDOT.
"To be one of only three states that does not have an all-driver texting ban is embarrassing, and it's way overdue," she said. "I frankly don't understand the reasoning behind why we don't have an all-driver texting ban. I cannot think of one reason why it is ever acceptable or OK for someone to be texting while behind the wheel, and that's why we're advocating to our legislators so strongly."
Missouri's Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee heard a bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Dixon, on Thursday that would prohibit using devices like cellphones while driving.
Some cities have taken it upon themselves to enact all-driver texting ordinances, such as St. Charles, Kirkwood and Florissant, according to Arrive Alive's website.
Columbia recently made an amendment to its careful and prudent driving ordinance to include distracted driving as part of its Vision Zero Action Plan, which sets a goal to reduce traffic fatalities and severe injuries by 2030.
"An officer would only pull someone over if they saw that primary offense of careless driving like swerving or erratic speeds, stuff like that," Vision Zero Program Manager Heather Cole said. "This would be the offense they would be pulled over for, but the officer could note distracted driving on the ticket so that when it goes to prosecution that notation would be taken into consideration for the circumstances of why they were driving carelessly and that could result in an increased fine."
Tergin wants an all-driver texting ordinance in Jefferson City but said Missouri law does not allow it. City Counselor Ryan Moehlman agreed state law appears to prevent cities from enacting such a ban.
Under Missouri law, the state "preempts the field of regulating the use of hand-held electronic wireless communications devices" in vehicles.
It adds state laws "supersede any local laws, ordinances, orders, rules, or regulations enacted by a county, municipality or other political subdivision to regulate the use of hand-held electronic wireless communication devices" by a driver.
Cole said Columbia did not want to focus on only one type of distracted driving behavior and the subsection would also get around the state preemption.
Opponents of primary seat belt and all-driver texting ban laws said these take away drivers' choices. However, several mayors on Wednesday said these two laws would save lives.
"We just need (legislators) to do it and not get distracted by these extraneous arguments and positions like, 'Well, it interferes with freedom,'" Kansas City Mayor Sly James said. "I have freedom, too. I have the freedom to be on the road and stay alive from people who shouldn't be distracted while driving. When their desire to send a text about something unnecessary interferes with my ability to live, I think our ability to live trumps that nonsense."
Since MoDOT started the campaign over a year ago, more than 2,100 individuals and almost 300 businesses have accepted the Buckle Up/Phone Down challenge.