Missouri’s distracted driving bill needs more teeth

The bill’s intent is undermined by making texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning police can’t pull drivers over and ticket them merely for visibly using a cellphone while driving



May 23, 2023 - 2:30 PM

Missouri is finally taking action against distracted drivers. Photo by Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Better late than never, and better than nothing. That’s about the best that can be said of the ban on cellphone usage while driving that the Missouri Legislature has sent to Gov. Mike Parson. The law doesn’t make cellphone usage a primary offense for which a driver can be pulled over. Still, it’s a small step in the right direction for a state that has badly lagged the nation in addressing the scourge of distracted driving. Parson should sign the bill into law, and the Legislature should work to add more teeth into it as soon as possible.

Missouri already prohibits using a cellphone while driving for people under 21, but it remains one of just two states in the nation (Montana is the other) with no restrictions on adults who feel like texting and doing other things on their phones when their eyes should be on the road. Distracted driving accounts for thousands of highway deaths annually, with death rates rising in recent years as cellphone usage has gone from being commonplace to ubiquitous.

There’s no real rational argument for not outlawing cellphone usage behind the wheel. Warnings that it’s government overreach ignore the fact that society long ago accepted myriad restrictions on driving — licensing, speed limits, stop signs — because a rolling two-ton machine is inherently dangerous. Missouri conservatives who have zealously sought to insert government into the medical decisions of women and transgender patients have sounded more than a little inconsistent in arguing there is some sacred privacy right to cellphone usage while driving.

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