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New texting-while-driving law goes into effect

Friday, August 28, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:26 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 18, 2010

The law banning texting while driving for drivers 21 and younger went into effect Friday. A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the day the law went into effect.

JEFFERSON CITY — A law banning texting for Missouri drivers age 21 and under took effect *Friday as some law enforcement and state government officials questioned the enforceability of the restriction.

The law, passed by the Missouri legislature earlier this year as part of an omnibus crime bill, will enable law enforcement officials to stop young drivers suspected of texting at the wheel.

Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, is the sponsor of the House bill that included the provision to ban texting by young drivers, but he said he is worried the new law will be difficult to enforce.

"If you're a law enforcement officer sitting on the side of the road and you see somebody come by and they've got their hands on their phone, how does that officer know whether or not you're dialing a phone number or texting?" Lipke said.

Being able to spot texting from afar is not the only challenge facing law enforcement officials. Patrol officers will also need to identify drivers who may be texting as 21 or under.

Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said the decision to pull over a driver for texting will be one based largely on appearances.

"If we see someone who appears to be texting on their device and they appear to be under the age of 21, then they can be stopped," Hotz said.

The MU Police Department doesn't have any specific plans to enforce the law, but Capt. Scott Richardson said those who violate the law will be charged.

"We're not going out to find people," Richardson said. He said he hopes this law will bring attention to the safety hazard of texting while driving.

The Columbia Police Department did not return calls seeking comment.

As the law is written, texting while driving will be classified as a primary offense, meaning drivers can be stopped by law enforcement officers under suspicion of texting alone. But Hotz said only those motorists driving dangerously would likely be pulled over and that safer drivers, even those engaged in text messaging, may be overlooked by law enforcement.

Under the new law, a ticket will cost up to $200 for those drivers who are caught texting. Hotz believes making texting illegal for drivers will prevent accidents, but Maj. Tom Reddin of the Boone County Sheriff's Department remains unconvinced the law will be an effective deterrent.

"Honestly, I think this law is going to get violated right and left," said Reddin.

The new law will apply only to those drivers between 16 and 21. In 2007, that age group experienced more crashes than any other, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Reddin and Lipke suggest expanding the illegality of texting to include drivers of all ages, not just those within the highest-risk age group.

"Anyone that texts and drives is putting themselves and others at risk," Lipke said.

Originally, a universal ban on texting while driving was proposed by state Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, who could not be reached for comment. Lipke expects such a provision could be proposed once the next legislative session begins and the new law has been in place for a few months.

— Missourian reporter Haleigh Castino contributed to this article


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Comments

Charles Dudley Jr August 28, 2009 | 4:44 a.m.

"If you're a law enforcement officer sitting on the side of the road and you see somebody come by and they've got their hands on their phone, how does that officer know whether or not you're dialing a phone number or texting?" Lipke said.

Should not matter there should be the same law for both. Yesterday at Wilkes and Providence a motorist was trying to make a turn onto Providence,was not using his turn signals and was talking on his cell phone. He finally made a left hand turn,jamming out in front of other traffic.

The law should be the same for both texting and having your cell phone to your ear while driving. The penalties should be increased too for these offenses to send a message that the public's safety as a whole is far more important than your call or text message.

(Report Comment)
Mike James August 28, 2009 | 7:15 a.m.

Hi friends, if we observe the reports of car accident of few years, we found that the maximum car accident causes are texting at the time of driving.Thus in this concern i wanna say that the "New texting law" is good approach towards controlling the rate of car accident.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz August 28, 2009 | 9:45 a.m.

I would wonder if the existing careless and imprudent law would cover such activity already.

(Report Comment)
Mike James August 28, 2009 | 12:27 p.m.

If we observe the reports of road accident of few years we found that most accident causes are texting, while driving. Thus if the law will follow by people then it may reduce the case of accident. Thus we should welcome the "New Texting law".

(Report Comment)
Dawn Watkins August 31, 2009 | 8:07 p.m.

I am a paramedic and deal with wrecks all the time. I do not believe anyone should be allowed to text and drive.

I work with people who text while driving an ambulance and they run off the road and swerve. They think they are some of the safest drivers around and prove to me on numerous occasions that even some of the most professional people trained to drive in an emergency can't even drive and text.

There are people out there that will say they can text and drive, but if they are honest with themselves, they will have to admit that they swerve or run over the rumble strips, etc.

Come on people, what happened to concern and consideration for others!!

(Report Comment)
ashumeet samra February 5, 2010 | 1:59 p.m.

no doubt texting while driving is a menace, but for people who have no other options but to stay in touch through texts and calls should use the new softwares like http://www.drivesafe.ly/
Even for kids and teens who can't seem to get the whole safety 1st thing into their heads, these apps come as a godsend( actually for their worried parents).

(Report Comment)
Al Lopez May 13, 2010 | 10:43 a.m.

Missouri lawmakers seem to ignore the fact that texting while driving is just a dangerous for adults as it is for young drivers. An email or text message is not worth your daughter/mother/spouse's life. Any responsible driver should pull over or at least consider a hands-free texting application like TextnDrive (http://www.textndrive.com/textingwhiledr...). While those applications don't eliminate the problem, they at least try to reduce the distraction.

(Report Comment)
shellie townsend May 27, 2010 | 11:25 a.m.

I think anyone any age that is caught texting or dialing a phone should be pulled over and at least warned if not ticketed. I'd like to shove peoples cell phones down their throughts when they use them while driving. They not only put their lives in danger but other innocent people also!!!!!

(Report Comment)

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