Missouri texting-while-driving ban yields few tickets

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | 8:18 p.m. CST; updated 10:22 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 18, 2010

ST. LOUIS — A new Missouri law that bars young drivers from sending text messages while driving has proven hard to enforce.

Since the law took effect five months ago, the Missouri State Highway Patrol has issued just 13 tickets for the offense statewide, resulting in eight convictions, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday.

The fine for texting-while-driving is $200.

The low numbers came as no surprise to Highway Patrol Lt. John Hotz. He noted that the texting-while-driving law is new and that troopers often write warnings in the beginning to educate drivers. He also said the law is difficult to enforce because it applies only to people age 21 and younger.

Hotz said it's hard for troopers to tell from a distance how old a driver might be.

That's part of the reason why some groups want to see the law expanded to include all drivers regardless of age.

"It's not like we have roadblocks to check on people that are texting," said Mike Right, a spokesman for AAA Missouri. "The benefit of having it in the statute is voluntary compliance, sort of like every other law."

State Sen. Ryan McKenna, who last year sponsored a bill leading to the state's texting ban, agreed the measure does not go far enough.

"I thought it was a horrible public policy for the state to say that if you're 22-years-old, it's a safe practice," said McKenna, D-Crystal City, who is one of the state lawmakers who have proposed expanding the ban to all drivers.

Critics say the issue of distracted driving should not be a legislative matter and that drivers need to be educated about the dangers of impaired driving.

"Adding additional penalties is not going to clear up someone's behavior," said Sen. Jolie Justus, who voted against the texting ban last year.

Justus, D-Kansas City, said the ban seemed hard to enforce and redundant because the state already has laws against careless and imprudent driving.


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