Missouri lawmakers consider changes to commercial driver's licenses

Sunday, May 5, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Amid the risk of losing millions of dollars in federal transportation funding, Missouri lawmakers are considering changes to rules for commercial driver's licenses.

Legislation advancing at the Missouri Capitol seeks to comply with federal regulations dealing with learning permits for commercial driver's licenses and with restrictions on texting and the use of hand-held cellphones by people who are driving commercial vehicles.

Failing to act quickly enough eventually could cost Missouri $30 million for one year and $60 million annually after that, the state Department of Transportation said.

Lawmakers in the House gave initial approval to their measure this past week, and the bill needs another round of approval before it can move to the Senate. Two weeks remain for legislators to approve new bills before their mandatory adjournment May 17.

Rep. Dave Schatz, chairman of the House Transportation Committee and sponsor of the legislation, said the bill is straight-forward and he's confident it will pass. Schatz, R-Sullivan, said he does not like it when the federal government bullies to get its way, but noted that it has the ability to withhold money it provides to states.

"We cannot afford to lose any funding that comes toward transportation," he said.

The Missouri legislation includes a prohibition on sending, reading or writing a text message while operating a commercial motor vehicle and would prohibit commercial vehicle drivers from using hand-held cellphones. Missouri law already bars drivers who are age 21 or younger from texting while they drive. However, the state does not currently prohibit drivers of any age from using a hand-held cellphone on the roadway.

Cellphone use by motorists has received increased attention in recent years. The Governors Highway Safety Association reports that 10 states have bans on drivers using hand-held cellphones. In addition, the association states that 39 states prohibit motorists from texting while driving. School bus drivers in 19 states are restricted from any cellphone use.

Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found drivers sending and receiving text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds for every 6 seconds they are texting. At 55 mph, that translates into traveling the length of a football field without looking at the road.

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