(JEFFERSON CITY,MO)Missouri is one of only three states in the country that does not have an all driver texting ban in place. However a new piece of legislation would require people of all ages to put their phones away before getting into the driver's seat.
Missouri Senate Bill 15, proposed by Sen. Wayne Wallingford (R- Cape Girardeau), would prohibit drivers of all ages from using their cell phones (with the exception of hands-free devices) while driving.
Sergeant Larry Stobbs maintains a driving simulator for the St. Joseph Police Department that demonstrates the dangers of drinking and distracted driving. Stobbs said the number of drunk drivers on the roads are starting to decline, but are being replaced with people texting and using social media apps on their phones while behind the wheel.
“Those [drivers] are every bit as dangerous, if not more dangerous than a drunk driver, because the drunk driver, while they may might not comprehend everything that is going on around them,at least their eyes are focused on the road,” Stobbs said. “When somebody is looking down texting on their phone, their eyes are off the road completely.”
Stobbs said regardless of the speed limit on the roads, distracted driving can still cause serious accidents.
“The bad part is some people might think ‘well I’m only on the part where it’s a 25 mph speed limit’, but I can remember when Chief Ruter was here, one of the fatal crashes we had in the downtown area involved some vehicles that the speeds were below 30 mph,” Stobbs said.
Youth Alliance Executive Director Robin Hammond has worked with staff to host Arrive Alive programs for high school students in the area to learn about roadway safety. Hammond said the immediacy of text messaging and smartphone apps, can make it difficult for drivers of any age to stay focused on the road.
"We get so used to immediate communication and just knowing that someone sent you that message and you can't see what is says or who it was and respond to them, it's sometimes very much a temptation,"Hammond said."We don't put enough consideration into how fast we are going and how far we can travel on a roadway in the split second that it takes to take your eye off [the road] and look at your phone.”
Currently Missouri only has laws in place to keep drivers under the age of 21 from using their phones while driving, but Stobbs said it’s not just young drivers causing problems with their smartphones.
"Seventy percent of our accidents, I believe last year, where texting and driving was a problem actually involved people over the age of 22,"Stobbs said.
According to a report by the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, cell phone related crashes have increased by 35 percent since 2014.
“They don’t drink and drive as much as what kids did 30 or 40 years ago. The problem is those kids have replaced the drinking and driving problem with the texting while driving,”Stobbs said."The distracted driving has really had a bad impact on our driving here in St. Joseph compared to what it was 30 years ago."
According to the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety nine out of 10 people use their smartphones in some way while driving.
"If you are talking on the phone, where is your mental focus at? You are communicating with another person, so how much are you really paying attention to the things going on, on the roadway?,"Stobbs said.
Stobbs recommends drivers install text-off apps with their cell phone providers to help encourage them to not text and drive.
If the bill is passed into law it would take effect on August 28,2019 and would impose a $50 fine for phone usage violations and a $100 fine if the person is driving in a school zone.