WHAT OTHERS SAY: Protecting Missouri residents' right to die in traffic accidents

Thursday, April 11, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Thank your Missouri legislators for engaging the state in yet another embarrassing race to the bottom.

This time it’s laws regarding texting while driving. As in, Missouri doesn’t have any, at least not for drivers over the age of 20. See, it’s teenagers who are the problem.

Missouri is one of only 11 states that has not enacted a total text messaging ban for drivers, Ken Leiser, the Post-Dispatch Ride Guy columnist, informed us on Sunday.

This despite a horrific texting-while-driving accident in Missouri in 2010 that led the National Transportation Safety Board to call for states to enact tougher anti-texting laws.

Two people were killed in the accident, a multi-vehicle pileup that included two school buses on Interstate 44 near Gray Summit. The transportation safety board said after an investigation that the accident was set in motion by a rear-end collision involving a pickup driven by a 19-year-old man who had sent or received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the crash.

So, let’s get this straight — an accident in Missouri has prompted 39 states and the District of Columbia to ban texting for all drivers, but not in Missouri? What’s wrong with that picture?

That failure to protect Missouri’s drivers is part of a pattern. The Show-Me State was one of the last in the country to make it illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or above. Missouri held out for the 0.10 percent blood-alcohol standard until it was threatened with the loss of highway funds.

And then there is our embarrassing record on seat belt laws. Missouri is one of the few states that does not have a primary seat belt law, which means that an officer here can write a ticket for failure to wear a seat belt only if the driver has been pulled over for another offense.

In states with primary seat belt laws — where a driver can be pulled over and ticketed for not being buckled up — nearly 90 percent of vehicle occupants are in compliance, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

MoDOT, which has pushed for a primary seat belt law, said only 76 percent of vehicle occupants in Missouri are buckled up.

Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City, was one of the legislative leaders who tried to ban texting while driving. He said Monday that even the cellphone industry was in favor of the legislation.

But the majority of Missouri’s lawmakers opposed it, saying they “thought it was a nanny-type of law,” Mr. McKenna said.

He added that he could understand the nanny law argument for something like a helmet law, where a person who chooses to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet is most likely only endangering himself. (We’d suggest the long-term costs of caring for brain-trauma patients gives society a stake in that argument, too).

“But you’re putting other people’s lives in danger while you’re texting and driving,” Mr. McKenna said. “Trying to stop that is not enacting a nanny law in my opinion. Missouri is trending to where we’re just against everything.”

Dave Nichols, MoDOT’s new director, said at a news conference Friday in Jefferson City that it would be “very beneficial to have the primary enforcement in place” regarding seat belt laws, but that the department would respect the wishes of the General Assembly.

“Missouri is a state that is a conservative state,” Mr. Nichols said. “And they believe in individual rights and responsibility and accountability. And we’re going to respect that.”

Of course, by not making laws that impinge on the rights of those who want to text and drive, lawmakers are making roads more dangerous for others.

The phony cries of patriotism and freedom that legislators use to lure wedge voters to the polls should be seen as what they are: Cynical attempts to manipulate the credulous. Nobody’s freedom is being protected. Patriots believe in sensible laws that protect others.

Texting and driving is not the most critical issue facing legislators, but it is symbolic of the phony tactics that are used to stir conservative voters. Speed limits and drunken driving laws and seat belt laws protect all drivers. Voters who care about good government and reject fear mongering should start voting for legislators who will stand for the greater good.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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Jimmy Bearfield April 11, 2013 | 11:56 a.m.

"it is symbolic"

More like showboating because it would be difficult to enforce and have little effect.

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