It comes as a surprise to many drivers that it is against the law to text and drive in Missouri if you are under the age of 21. Apparently this law also comes as a surprise to many law enforcement officers, as a report released today indicates that “fewer than 4 people a month” have received texting-while-driving citations since the law was passed in 2009. In nearly half of Missouri’s 144 counties, not a single such citation has ever been issued. And in counties where there have been a handful of these tickets handed out, the fines are more often than not about as costly as a seat belt ticket ($20.50).
These tickets are rarely issued due in large part to the difficulty of enforcing the law. The “drivers under age 21” restriction further hinders police enforcement. Laws to make texting-while-driving illegal in Missouri has stalled several times in Jefferson City, placing Missouri in the vast minority of states that do not have outright bans on this dangerous and all-too-common activity.
Having received two calls for this violation in recent weeks, it appears as though enforcement is on the rise. And public awareness of this issue is escalating in Missouri. Last week, a Distracted Driving Summit was held in Jefferson City to address what has become a major problem in our state. This Summit was held one day after House Bill 394 was introduced, making texting-while-driving illegal for all drivers who do not possess hands-free texting capabilities. This bill is similar in language to bills introduced in recent years, but those bills were held up in committee and failed to pass.
While Missouri lags behind the rest of the country in just about every conceivable way, especially when it comes to our laws and the enforcement of them, it appears that an across-the-board texting-while-driving ban may not be wishful thinking. Until then, do us all a favor and put your phone down while you are driving. I’m sure your text can wait.