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Missouri Senate bill would ban texting, use of phones while driving

by Ella McCarthy | March 3, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Above is a screenshot from the winning video in the News Tribune's 2020 It Can Wait Contest by Madelyn Goodson, which illustrates why motorists should not drive distracted.

On an early morning in May 2019, Randall Siddens left his home to help set up the TriZou Triathlon course in Columbia. A few hours later, while tending to roadways used in the course, he was struck by a distracted driver.

Siddens passed away six months after the accident due to complications from the injuries he sustained.

His widow, Adrienne Siddens, spoke Tuesday morning at a public hearing in support of Senate Bill 713, also known as the hands-free bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Razer, D- Jackson County, that would ban all texting and use of cell phones while driving unless a driver can use hands-free technology.

By "passing this legislation and enforcing hands-free policy ... so many other families will not have to experience this," Siddens said.

Missouri and Montana are the only two states that allow drivers older than 21 to text and drive, Razer said.

The proposed legislation "would ban all texting and the use of a phone for drivers of all ages, unless they are using hand free technology that does not distract the driver from operating the vehicle," he added.

SB 713 would also ban drivers younger than 18 from using any cellular devices, regardless of a hands-freee option, he added.

Different levels of fines will be determined on offense number and the area where the offense occured.

"In 2018, nearly 2,500 distracted driving crashes occurred in the state of Missouri," Razer said. "In 2020, 82 people, we know of, were killed because of distracted driving."

"Eighty percent of those fatalities were caused by people who were over the age of 21 and legally, currently allowed the text and drive," he added.

Siddens was not the only person at Tuesday's hearing who supported hands-free driving. Advocates, lobbyists, physicians and other individuals whose lives were personally affected by distracted driving came to support the passing of the legislation.

"A bill like Senate Bill 713 was heard in this committee in January of 2019, but it did not advance, and sadly 153 more people were killed by a distracted driver in the next two years," said Angela Nelson, with AAA Missouri.

"If you get caught not following this law, as Senator Razer mentioned, it'll be a $50 fine for the first offense, $100 in a safety zone," she said, adding the bill would not prevent a driver from making or taking a phone call, as long as it is through the car's Bluetooth system or the phones external speaker.

The bill would also not prohibit a driver from having their car or phone, read emails or text messages received, or from utilizing navigation systems, provided the destination is set prior to driving, Nelson added.

A senior maintenance operations specialist with the Missouri Department of Transportation shared how distracted driving has affected his work and safety at the public hearing.

"In one instance, I was on U.S. 54 when I was hit from behind by a one-ton truck. The impact pushed me through an intersection with my brake applied," he said. "The second incident was on I-70, when a vehicle sideswiped me. The driver admitted she was in a hurry and on her phone."

During his testimony, the MoDOT employee noted this past year there was a record high of vehicles hit in work zones.

"Senate Bill 713 is not the automatic solution to the distracted driving problem, but it is a good first step to encouraging safe driver behavior," he said.

During other testimonies at the public hearing, it was noted having hands-free legislation could also reduce automobile insurance premiums but was questioned by some of the committee members who were present.

No testimonies were made in opposition of SB 713.

"Fifteen states have recently passed laws like this and have seen an average decrease in fatalities from distracted driving by 15 percent," Razer said. "Simply passing this law will have an impact."

SB 713: Modifies provisions relating to the operation of motor vehicles while using electronic devices

Sen. Greg Razer


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