Proposal would criminalize texting and driving at any age

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:22 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 18, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposal to ban adults from texting while driving ran into skepticism in the state capital on Tuesday.

"This makes about as much sense to me as outlawing putting on makeup on while driving, reading the newspaper while driving, shaving before you go to work ... How far do we wanna go with this?" asked House Public Safety Committee member Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington.

The bill before the committee would extend a current ban on texting while driving to people of all ages. The law that passed last year covers only those under the age of 22.

The bill's sponsor — Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles — told the committee that "inattentiveness is a major cause of accidents and deaths on our Missouri highways." He cited a recent fatal accident in Miller County, which he represents, that he said was attributed to texting and driving

Besides Dieckhaus, skepticism to Schad's bill was voiced by a former police chief and long-time law enforcement official, Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart.

Roorda voiced concerns about the "subjective standard of law enforcement" to be able to look at a driver and determine whether they are texting or using an allowable function, such as a GPS feature. Roorda felt that unless law enforcement officials were given the power to search phone logs, little could be done to successfully enforce the bill.

"I'm afraid it's more of a public education campaign," Roorda said. "And once that public awareness peaks, it starts to decline very quickly if there's no enforcement that goes with it."

Capt. Tim McDonald, the Missouri State Highway Patrol chief of staff, testified that the highway patrol promotes safety but had not taken a position on the bill. McDonald said 155,000 traffic crashes were reported in the state last year, and of those, 17,000 involved the use of a cell phone.

Representatives of major insurance interests testified in support of the proposal.

Brent Butler, a lobbyist for the Missouri Insurance Coalition, called texting while driving issues both an "epidemic" and "an accident waiting to happen."

Richard Brownlee, a State Farm Insurance lobbyist, equated the risks of texting and driving to driving while intoxicated.

Other supporters included the Missouri Trucking Association, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri State Troopers Association and AT&T Inc.

Although committee members raised questions, no one testified against the bill.

The committee took no immediate action on the measure.

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Thomas Aydelott February 10, 2010 | 9:32 a.m.

My wife rides in a carpool from Boonville to Clumbia 5 days aweek. One of her carpool members texts everyday she drives, and has nearly had several accidents while texting. I think this law would definetly cut down on accidents.
Tom Aydelott

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 10, 2010 | 1:22 p.m.

Unfortunately, passing a law doesn't banish stupidity, but the proposal might be a step in the right direction.

How did the human race survive, let alone prosper, before we could finger text messages on cell phones? Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

(Report Comment)

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