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Our Opinion: Missouri needs texting while driving ban

March 17, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

Multitasking has become a sort of badge of honor.

The "skill" of doing multiple functions seemingly at the same time is often celebrated as a sign of our productiveness and a means to cope with the busyness of our lives.

At times, splitting one's focus between two tasks can be relatively harmless. But there are also times when multitasking is not only foolish, it's potentially dangerous.

For many Missourians today, that's a common, dangerous road they travel daily when they text and drive.

It's easy to justify reading that text or sending one while driving by telling yourself you had only taken your eyes off the road for a few seconds.

But make no mistake, the distraction poses real dangers.

Five distracted seconds at a speed of 55 mph is the same as driving an entire length of a football field with your eyes shut, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Put another way, using your phone to send a text while driving can have the same effect on your reaction time as drinking four beers in an hour and then driving.

When you're texting and driving, you're distracted in three ways: visually, manually and cognitively, experts say.

You're taking your eyes off of the road to look at your phone screen, you're taking at least one hand off of the wheel to type and you're also taking your mind off of driving.

Most of us will confess we know it's dangerous; nearly all of the drivers (96 percent) recently surveyed by the American Automobile Association (AAA) believe texting or emailing while driving is a serious or very serious threat to their safety.

They're right.

Distracted driving has become a leading cause of vehicle crashes in the United States.

But in that AAA survey, 39 percent of the drivers admitted they had read a text or email while driving in the last month, and 29 percent admitted to having typed a text while driving.

Texting while driving is banned through much of the United States. Only two states don't have texting while driving bans: Montana and, you guessed it, Missouri.

But efforts are under way again this year to pass a texting and driving ban for all Missourians.

Senate Bill 56, which is being called the "Siddens Bening Hands Free Law" after two victims of distracted driving, would ban commercial and regular drivers from physically holding devices, making calls, texting, sending emails, searching the internet, watching videos or browsing social media while on Missouri roadways.

The ban would apply to cell phones, digital assistants, computers, tablets, video game systems and other electronic devices used for communication or accessing the internet. Non-commercial drivers would still be permitted to use voice-activated functions of their device.

Missouri transportation leaders say they are "cautiously optimistic" lawmakers will adopt a ban this year.

Commissioner Gregg Smith said hands-free legislation is the Highways and Transportation Commission's main priority this session.

"States that have enacted a hands-free law have experienced an average decrease in the fatality rate of 15 percent within two years," he said.

Many motorists drive while distracted because they mistakenly believe being in a serious accident won't happen to them. But car crashes due to distracted driving can happen to anyone and it can turn a person's world upside down.

Keep our eyes on the road this session, legislators. Pass a texting while driving ban that will put teeth in the Missouri Department of Transportation's public awareness campaign slogan: Buckle up, phone down.

-- News Tribune

Print Headline: Our Opinion: Missouri needs texting while driving ban


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