The Missouri State Highway Patrol’s heart seems in the right place with its new public safety campaign against texting and driving.
Certainly there’s a need: So far this year there have been 17,535 crashes in the Show Me State where distracted driving was cited as a contributing cause.
The highway patrol even arranged for a race car to bear the logo for the no-texting campaign, one of those red-cross-out designs that says “no texting.” Want a decal for your very own car? They’re free to the public as window clingers.
One slight problem. If you’re a driver 21 or older in Missouri, feel free to text to your heart’s content. It’s perfectly legal. Same with cell phone use while driving, which has killed at least eight people on state roads since Jan. 1.
The highway patrol explains, sort of:
The campaign complements Missouri’s current anti-texting law, which prohibits use of cell phones or texting devices for drivers 21 years of age and younger. (We call on) all Missouri drivers to honor the letter and the spirit of the law — regardless of age — and stop texting while driving to help make Missouri’s highways safer for all motorists.
We’re reminded of the recent Pew survey that concluded adults are just as likely to text and drive as teenagers. Texting doesn’t seem to level off until drivers are in their mid-30s.
Of course, state troopers don’t make laws, they enforce them. But consider that the various efforts to expand the texting ban to all drivers failed in Missouri’s last legislative session. The primary reason — make that, excuse? Law agencies’ complaints that enforcement would be too difficult.
The House Public Safety Committee chairman, Mark Bruns, in fact, blocked all text messaging legislation that came through his domain because “too many questions remain on how to enforce it properly.”
The highway patrol’s chief of staff attended one texting while driving hearing before Bruns and said the law agency had no position on a texting ban. But the spokesman noted that the highway patrol promoted safety.
Public safety campaigns are no substitute for laws against deadly behaviors.
The highway patrol needs to help quash talk of enforcement woes and embrace all-ages bans on handheld electronic devices.
Lawmakers need to follow the lead of distracted driving opponents such as Rep. Rodney Schad and state Sen. Ryan McKenna, who see “an epidemic” of texting on state roads and highways.
Come on, Missouri. Show us something real. Then play with race cars.