Last updated: February 12, 2016
Legislative update: At least a half dozen distracted driving bills have been filed for the 2016 session. In the Senate, state Sen. David Pearce and Sen. Jill Schupp seek to apply the ban on texting by drivers 21 and younger to all motorists. In the House, three bills have been filed to do the same, while a fourth has been designed to outlaw the use of handheld communications devices by all drivers.
The Highway Patrol reports 861 traffic deaths in Missouri in 2015, with almost 100 linked to driver inattention, including cell phone use. Texting & driving was cited in 357 crashes. Missouri is one of a handful of states without a ban on text messaging by all drivers.
The Missouri Department of Transportation says as many as 80 percent of crashes in the state involve some form of distraction.
Current distracted driving prohibitions:
- Drivers 21 or younger prohibited from text messaging.
- Commercial drivers barred from texting or using handheld cell phones.
Read the Missouri distracted driving statute.
Local texting & driving laws in Chesterfield, Lake St. Louis, St. Charles, Kirkwood, Florissant, Ellisville, Manchester and St. John. O’Fallon has a general distracted driving law.
Distracted driving legislation (2016):
Senate Bill 569: Would make adults subject to existing state texting ban for younger drivers.(Pearce)
SB 821: Seeks to apply current texting & driving texting ban to all drivers. (Schupp)
House Bill 1377: Would make existing state texting ban apply to all drivers. (English)
HB 1423: Would apply state texting ban apply to all drivers. (Walker)
HB 1542: Would permit only hands-free texting by all drivers in Missouri. Applies to all ages. (Brown)
HB 1544: Would outlaw use of handheld communications devices while driving. Hands-free OK. (Brown)
Distracted driving notes (2016):
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard says he’s a strong supporter of outlawing texting & driving for all drivers. “I’m of a mind with Clint Eastwood: Hang ’em high,” he said at a session for the press at the governor’s mansion in early February.
House Speaker Todd Richardson said comparing distracted driving with drunken driving is “a mistake” “that diminishes the impact of drunk driving.”
Rep. T.J. Berry says he thinks a texting law could emerge from the 2016 legislative session.
A AAA survey found 93 percent strong support for a texting ban that applied to all drivers in Missouri. “There’s no magic age where texting behind the wheel suddenly becomes safe,” said Mike Right, vice president of AAA Public Affairs. A hands-free requirement for cell phone use drew the backing of 73 percent, while a total ban on cell phone use had the strong support of 50 percent.
State Sen. David Pearce is trying again in 2016 with distracted driving legislation. This time, he proposes to make the texting & driving ban apply to all ages. “This common-sense legislation has long been a priority of mine,” Pearce said as he prepared to prefile the distracted driving legislation Dec. 1. His previous attempts with distracted driving bills came in 2014 and 2015.
Pearce added: “It’s become common for folks to joke about having a fear of missing out. Is any text really important enough to risk missing out on the rest of your life? Or worse yet, causing someone else to miss out on the rest of theirs?”
State Sen. Jill Schupp points out that Missouri is one of only four states where texting & driving remains legal. “Texting and driving is a dangerous distraction, not just for those under age 22, but for all of us,” Schupp said in announcing her 2016 texting bill. “It is time for the law to require responsible driving habits of all drivers, not just some.”
2015 distracted driving legislation (dead):
House Bill 27: Seeks to outlaw text messaging by drivers regardless of age. Allows for hands-free texting. See HB 1256 of 2014, below. (Kratky)
Senate Bill 3: Would make use of handheld cell phones and texting & driving illegal for all motorists. Moving violation. See SB 840 of 2014, below. (Pearce)
2015 distracted driving notes:
No young drivers reportedly have been punished for texting and driving in many of the counties in Missouri. Yet, teen drivers account for about 13 percent of inattentive driving fatalities, the largest of any age group, according to the state insurance department.
State Sen. David Pearce says previous distracted driving bills have failed in Missouri because they were “too general.”
Two lawmakers were back for the 2015 session with reruns of their distracted driving legislation. State Rep. Michele Kratky prefiled her plan to extend the state texting law to drivers of all ages.
The debate over O’Fallon’s broad distracted driving law was triggered by Councilman John Haman, who called the law “an overreach.” His bid to repeal the law narrowly fell short. The O’Fallon’s City Council deadlocked Feb. 26 on the repeal of the local distracted driving ordinance, with the mayor breaking the tie in favor of keeping the broadly worded law. The ordinance, approved last fall, lists various distracted driving offenses, such as reading, grooming and inputting data into a GPS device.
2014 distracted driving notes:
At least six bills were filed for 2014 seeking to toughen the Missouri distracted driving laws, but none found any traction before the session ended.
Chesterfield has outlawed texting for drivers of all ages. The unanimous City Council vote came Dec. 1.
St. Charles has banned texting for all drivers, with the City Council voting 9-1 to ban the practice Sept. 2. The fine for text messaging behind the wheel will be up to $300. The mayor indicated she would sign the legislation. Florissant, Manchester, Kirkwood and St. John have similar bans on texting by all drivers.
Kirkwood’s city council has banned texting by all drivers in city limits. Municipal public safety violation with fines up to $1,000, but the incident will not be reported to the state as a moving violation unless the driver is under 21 and in violation of Missouri law. Kirkwood is a suburb of St. Louis.
The Missouri Department of Insurance says teens will have to pay up if they don’t stop texting while driving. Increases in teen insurance premiums go up more than 70 percent after wrecks, the department says. “Not only can distracted driving cost lives, it also can cost you thousands of dollars in higher insurance premiums,” said John Huff, director of the department. “This is money that could have been spent on college, a vacation, or a down payment on a home.” A department video features a teen who had to stop driving after a texting wreck.
Lake St. Louis has banned texting & driving in city limits. The law applies to all drivers, not just teens. The unanimous Board of Aldermen vote came in late October. In mid-May, the board dropped a similar plan, deciding, instead, to write lawmakers pushing for statewide action. St. Louis County municipalities Manchester and St. John in late 2013 enacted texting bans that affect all drivers.
The St. Louis County Municipal League honored Manchester with a public safety award for the city’s texting & driving ban.
Perryville has banned texting by drivers 21 and younger. The Board of Aldermen also approved a prohibition on use of handheld wireless communications devices by commercial drivers at its March 17 meeting. Fines $35 to $75.
Col. Ron Replogle, superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol, testified in favor of a texting & driving ban Feb. 18: “I think it will cause some people to put their phones up. I think it will cause some people to get hands-free devices. … I do think this bill sends the right message to the public.”
The city of Washington has ordered city workers not to text while driving. The new policy also discourages cell phone use by drivers and tells them to pull to the side of the road if a call is necessary. The City Council OK’d the policy Feb. 6.
2014 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 1106: Would prohibit use of handheld wireless communications devices by all drivers. Adds cell phone use to existing texting ban and removes restriction to drivers under age 21. (Gatschenberger)
Senate Bill 840: Would outlaw use of handheld wireless communications devices by all drivers. Bans texting for all drivers and requires hands-free operation of cell phones. (Pearce)
HB 1123: Would require points vs. driver’s license for texting & driving — 8 points for first offense; 12 points for subsequent offenses. Would ban wearing of head-mounted display (such as Google Glass) while operating vehicles. Would establish increased penalties for distracted driving law ranging from 30-day license suspension (first offense) to 10 days in jail (third offense). (Gosen)
HB 1256: Would bar all drivers from texting unless a hands-free technology is employed. (Kratky)
HB 1282: Seeks to outlaw text messaging by all drivers. (English)
HB 1316: Would ban text messaging by all drivers by removing under-age-21 limit of current prohibition. (Ellinger)
2013 distracted driving notes:
Manchester has banned text messaging for all drivers, regardless of age. Fines up to $1,000 with the possibility of a 90-day jail sentence. Aldermen voted for the ordinance Dec. 16. Florissant, another city in St. Louis County, already banned the practice for all drivers.
The Missourian reported that statewide, an average of four people a month are ticketed or charged with texting & driving violations. The 2009 law applies to drivers under the age of 21. Prosecutors say the age limit hinders enforcement since it requires police to make a determination of age of drivers in moving vehicles, the Missourian reported Feb. 15, 2013.
State Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger returned in 2013 with his plan to prohibit all drivers from using handheld communications devices, but it failed to get a hearing or a vote. His HB 1148 of 2012 also died, as did at least six other distracted driving bills.
2013 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 145: Would ban use of handheld wireless communications devices while driving. Hands-free operation OK. Includes cell phones. (Gatschenberger)
HB 394: Would apply Missouri text messaging law to all drivers, regardless of age. Allows for voice-operated texting. (Kratky)
HB 524: Seeks to bar all drivers in Missouri from texting while behind the wheel, instead of those 21 and under. Exempts voice-recognition hands-free texting. (Schupp)
2012 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 1083: Seeks to outlaw text messaging while driving via handheld electronic wireless communications devices. Exempts voice-recognition technology such as those preinstalled in a vehicle. Infractions would be moving violations subject to points against a driver’s license. “Public hearing completed” April 2. (Wells)
HB 1148: Would prohibit drivers from using cell phones or text messaging unless a hands-free device is employed. (Gatschenberger)
HB 1334: Would bar any driver being paid to transport passengers from using handheld wireless communications devices. Hands-free operation OK. “Public hearing completed” March 28. (Meadows)
HB 1419: Would apply text messaging prohibition for drivers 21 or younger to all drivers. Prohibits traffic stops “solely to determine compliance” with texting law, meaning secondary enforcement. See SB 567, below. (Colona)
HB 1430: Seeks to ban text messaging for all drivers. Hands-free voice activated texting OK. (Kratky)
Senate Bill 567: Would apply text messaging prohibition for drivers 21 or younger to all drivers. Secondary enforcement. “Hearing conducted” by Transportation Committee on Jan. 25. (Wright-Jones)
SB 717: A general distracted driving bill. Violations occur if driver “fails to give full time and attention to the operation of the motor vehicle,” “fails to maintain a proper lookout” or strays from “the primary mission of driving.” Class C misdemeanor unless accident results, in which case a violation is a Class A misdemeanor. Latest legislative action: Approved by the Transportation Committee on Feb. 23 and now before the full Senate as an “informal calendar” item. (Stouffer)
2012 distracted driving notes:
The 2012 Legislature had before it at least seven distracted driving bills, but none came to a vote. Most of the bills sought to ban text messaging by all drivers in Missouri. A general distracted driving bill was filed as well.
The Senate considered both of the distracted driving bills before it. The House says it conducted several public hearings.
The Kansas City suburb of Mission (Kansas) was considering a ban on handheld cell phones. Enforcement would be primary, allowing police to stop and cite violators. Among the concerns — the Johnson County suburb already has a reputation for running speed traps.
The city of Forsyth approved an inattentive driving ordinance on March 5, 2012. “We saw a big jump in distracted driving accidents,” Mayor Ron Potter says. Police reported that as many of 55 percent of accidents in 2011 were linked to distractions. The Forsyth law is now in effect with fines up to $500.
State Rep. Tim Meadows says his plan to bar use of handheld electronic devices by for-hire drivers dovetails with the recent federal curbs on interstate truckers. “The government is already saying to the trucking industry that they’re not allowed to be on their cell phones,” said Meadows, D-District 101. “This should send a message to the rest of the public.” Meadows supports a statewide ban on handheld electronics use by all drivers.
A Jan. 25 hearing on Senate Bill 567 included supportive testimony from the Missouri Trucking Association, the Highway Patrol and the State Medical Association. Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, is the sponsor.
Rep. Don Wells, R-Cabool, returns with House Bill 1083, which would prohibit texting via handheld devices by all drivers. It’s a rerun of his HB 600 of 2011. Wells says he regretted supporting the current Missouri law that bans texting just for younger drivers. “Missouri was the laughingstock of the country for passing that law,” Wells said.
A two-day Distracted Driving Summit was held in Jefferson City on Feb. 16-17.
Driver inattention is listed as the No. 1 cause of traffic accidents in Missouri.
2011 distracted driving notes:
No distracted driving legislation survived the 2011 session. The House approved a plan to remove the “21 and under” restriction from the current texting & driving law, but time ran out on the bill.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommended a total ban on cell phone use by U.S. drivers following its probe of a distracted driving wreck in Missouri. A Missouri teenager sent and received multiple text messages just before he caused a chain of rear-end collisions that left two people dead and 38 injured, the NTSB reported Dec. 12. The August 2010 accident involved the teen’s pickup truck, a tractor-trailer and two school buses. The teenage driver and a student in one of the buses died.
In the legislature’s final days, House Bill 600 and Senate Bill 11 were the surviving measures that would have extended Missouri’s ban on teens texting while driving to all drivers, regardless of age. HB 600 incorporates HB 337 from Rep. Don Wells.
A House hearing on two plans to ban text messaging for all drivers reportedly found the committee siding with HB 337 from Rep. Don Wells, although no vote was taken. The idea of an overall texting ban “was almost universally well received,” the Post-Dispatch reported March 2. A similar bill that called for secondary enforcement (HB 317) generated less enthusiasm.
In 2009, state Sen. Ryan McKenna saw his legislation result in Missouri’s texting ban for young drivers. In 2010, his bid to extend the ban to adult drivers failed. McKenna, D-Crystal City, tries again in 2011 with SB 11 (above), which was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on Jan. 26. Texting while behind the wheel is “a bad idea regardless of age,” he says. A House bill seeks the same sanctions.
Ryan says of the teens-only texting ban: “It makes horrible public policy to say if you are 22 or older, it is safe to text and drive.”
The Springfield News-Leader editorialized on Jan. 27: “Missouri Highway Patrol officers have urged a total ban on texting, and now lawmakers must step up.” Noting that the current ban only applies to young drivers, the paper wrote, “Well, we might get wiser as we gain driving experience, but our reflexes don’t generally work any faster.”
2011 distracted driving legislation:
HB 600 (incorporates HB 337, below): Would ban text messaging for all drivers in Missouri. Applies to use of handheld devices, but allows “voice-recognition hands-free texting.” Measure includes several unrelated bills. OK’d by the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee (March 3) and the Rules Committee (April 14). Latest legislative action: Approved by the House on a 103-44 vote taken April 26. Transmitted to the Senate and in the Judiciary Committee. Senate executive session marks bill “do pass” on May 9. Bill placed on “informal calendar” May 12. Bill dead for year. (Wells)
Senate Bill 11: Would extend the ban on text messaging by teen motorists to all drivers. Hands-free texting OK. Also allows communities to craft distracted driving legislation providing it is not more restrictive than the state law. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on Jan. 26 and sent to the Senate floor. Latest action: Do not pass recommendation issued by Ways & Means and Fiscal Oversight Committee on March 7. Scheduled for third reading May 9 in Senate as SCS for SB 11. Dead. (McKenna)
House Bill 93: Seeks to make the texting ban for drivers under 21 apply to all drivers. No action and “hearing not scheduled” as of March 1. Dead. (Shively)
HB 317: Would make text messaging illegal for Missouri drivers, regardless of age. Secondary enforcement. Latest action: Hearing before the House Public Safety Committee on March 2, but no vote taken. (Colona)
HB 337: Would ban text messaging for all drivers in Missouri. Applies to use of handheld devices, but not hands-free operation.
2010 legislation (dead):
HB 2111: Text messaging ban would be extended to all drivers regardless of age under this broad transportation bill. Approved by the House on April 29 (102-9 vote). First-round approval by the Senate on April 26, with amendments unrelated to texting. Sent to Fiscal Oversight Committee.
SB 701: Would ban texting by all Missouri drivers. Moving violation with points. Cleared the Senate Transportation Committee on April 13. (McKenna)
Missouri House Bill 1202: Would prohibit text messaging by all drivers, regardless of age, on any paved road. (Kuessner)
HB 1205: Would outlaw text messaging by all drivers. (Schad)
HB 1276: Would bar all Missouri drivers from texting. (Wells)
HB 1315: Would outlaw text messaging by all Missouri drivers, regardless of age (Shivley)
Cell phone, texting notes (pre-2011):
In the 2010’s first six months, 17,535 accidents in Missouri had some link to distracted driving, the Highway Patrol said. There were 791 traffic crashes related to mobile phone use behind the wheel, with eight fatalities and 239 injuries.
Public Safety Committee Chairman Mark Bruns, R-Jefferson City, said none of the 2010 plans for adding adults to the texting ban advanced because, in part, it is too hard for police to tell if a driver is over 21. Bruns said enforcement was so tricky that there should be no texting ban in Missouri.
Cell phone use while driving contributed to more than 1,780 accidents in Missouri in 2009, the highway patrol reported.
Rep. Don Wells, R-Cabool, who sponsored another bill (HB 1276) that would have outlawed texting by all drivers, said of the existing teen ban: “That’s like saying, ‘You can kill yourself if you’re over 21.’ ” Wells owns a defensive driving school.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol launched an anti-text messaging campaign in July. The campaign’s logo features a “no texting” design. MSHP is offering window-cling decals to the public. Con-way Freight, a major employer in Missouri, promoted the campaign by featuring the no-texting logo on its Ford Fusion race car. (Con-Way prohibits texting by its drivers). Adults, however, are allowed to drive and text message in Missouri, party due to law officers’ concerns over enforcement. The highway patrol asked older drivers to “honor the letter and the spirit of the law.”
The superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol said Jan. 19 that only 13 tickets had been written as a result of the Missouri ban on texting by teenage drivers. Most came during accident investigations.
Missouri’s Department of Transportation has banned text messaging by its employees. The department is supporting efforts to outlaw texting for all Missouri drivers.
HB 62: Wide-ranging crime bill that includes a ban on text messaging while driving for drivers under the age of 21. Approved by the House and Senate and signed by the governor as part of an omnibus crime bill. Enforcement began Aug. 28.
SB 130: Would ban the sending of text messages while operating motor vehicles. The legislation against texting while driving was approved by the full Missouri Senate on March 11, 2009, after it was added to a larger transportation bill.
HB 26: Would prohibit use of handheld cell phones by motorists. Permits hands-free.
HB 92: Would prohibit drivers from using cell phones unless a hands-free attachment was employed.
HB 134: Would outlaw drivers’ use of cell phones unless a hands-free device was employed. Bans text messaging of all types.
SB 129: Would prevent school bus drivers from text messaging and using handheld phones.
2009 legislation notes:
Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City, was the sponsor of both Senate bills.
Sen. McKenna saw his SB 130, which would ban text messages by motorists, approved by the Senate on March 11 after it was folded into a comprehensive transportation bill. It cleared the Senate Transportation Committee on Feb. 18.
Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Peters, has been frustrated in past years with his cell phone safety legislation. He cites a “civil libertarian component” at work in the state, as found in resistance to laws requiring motorcycle helmets and seat belts, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Cell phone bill sponsor Rep. Joe Smith is a Republican from St. Charles County. He sponsored a similar bill in 2008. Smith said many people can dial without looking, but that “basically we need a better system with dialing.”
Rep. Talibdin El-Amin, D-St. Louis, sponsor of HB 92, says of his constituents: “They know they talk on the phone and they know of a time they have been distracted. And then you hear the stories of people who have been killed because of it, and one is too many.”
The vice-chairman of the transportation committee indicated that it might not get around to the issues of electronic communications by drivers. “There is only so much time to get bills through,” said state Rep. Sally Faith, R-St. Charles.
Springfield reports that of the 146 crash reports in 2008, 44 percent of the crashes were due to cell phone use.
A Town and Country, Mo., alderman failed to find support for a city ordinance against driving and cell phoning. City lawmakers refused to take up the plan in August 2008, saying the issue needs to be addressed at the state level.
Alderman John Hoffmann told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “With a number of cell phone companies giving campaign contributions through straw parties and directly this isn’t about to hit the Missouri Legislature anytime soon for a vote.”
The local police commission urged the aldermen to instead push the state and county for a ban on cell phone use by drivers.