JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri Senate gave first-round approval Tuesday to a measure that would ban motorists of any age from reading, writing or sending text messages while driving.
The bill would expand the state's current texting-while-driving ban, which applies only to people age 21 or younger. Violations would remain an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $200.
Sponsoring Sen. Ryan McKenna said no one should be able to text while driving because it puts all drivers in danger.
"One second of you texting can change not only your life, but somebody else's life forever," said McKenna, D-Crystal City.
Opponents of the legislation argued that it would give the government too much power over what drivers do in their own cars.
"Common sense ought to tell you that it is dangerous," said Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield. "We get into real trouble when we try to legislate common sense."
In July, the Missouri State Highway Patrol launched a campaign urging all motorists to refrain from texting while driving. The patrol said there were 791 car accidents related to the use of cell phones in the first half of 2010, resulting in eight deaths and 239 injuries.
Before senators endorsed McKenna's bill on a voice vote, it was amended by Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, to also standardize the amount of time that stop lights remain yellow in Missouri. Lembke said broadening the scope of the bill could help it more votes for final passage.
But McKenna said the broadened legislation could invite other lawmakers to insert controversial measures, leading to the bill's demise.
"I think the majority (of senators) are fine with a law against texting, but now instead of a nice, clean law, we could have amendments come up that make people disagree with it," he said.
The Senate must vote on the bill once more before sending it to the House. But that won't happen until at least next week, since a severe winter storm sweeping across the state led the Senate to suspend work for the rest of week.
Texting bill is SB11.