Mixed Opinions on Texting, Driving Ban

There are two bills filed in the Missouri Senate to ban texting while driving for all ages.

The current law prohibits people under 21 and commercial drivers from using hand-held devices to text and drive.

Drivers of commercial vehicles also are prohibited from using handheld cellphones to make phone calls while driving.

Other than expanding the texting and driving ban for motorists of all ages, one of the bills would also ban all drivers from using handheld devices to make phone calls.

That bill was filed by state Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, and the other one that just applies to texting was filed by state Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.

Both bills would permit drivers to use cellphones in a hands-free, voice-activated mode.

State Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said banning texting and driving for all ages “probably makes sense.”

“I think we would all agree that most reasonable people would say that texting while driving is not a safe activity, and the most important thing you have to do is drive a vehicle,” Schatz said.

State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, questioned whether it is necessary to pass a law banning texting and driving for all ages.

“Distracted driving is distracted driving,” Alferman said. “I don’t care if you’re reading a newspaper or sending a text message or whatever, applying makeup or putting on a tie.”

Moreover, Alferman said he does not want to add another offense that police officers have to look for.

Schatz’s biggest concern about a texting and driving ban is how it would be enforced and what the penalties would be.

“I’m going to make sure that we use a commonsense approach to the enforcement and penalty phases of it that it doesn’t become a burden and a windfall for trial attorneys and lawyers to start getting people out of tickets,” Schatz said.

Despite those issues, Schatz said it is probably still good public policy to ban texting while driving for all ages.

“I’m probably not going to be in great opposition to a piece of legislation that does that,” he said.

One idea is to implement a graduating penalty scale such as a warning for a first offense followed by a fine for other offenses.

Texting and driving could be hard to prove, Schatz said. For instance, some driving offenses can be easily seen, but he questioned how it could be proven that a person holding a phone was texting.

“Enforcement is going to be difficult,” he said.

Alferman also takes issue with the bill that would ban talking on a handheld cellphone while driving.

“There are going to be people who can operate a motor vehicle while making a call perfectly fine,” he said. “There are going to be others that are completely distracted by it.”

Schatz said he may be more inclined to support a texting and driving ban over a ban of talking on a cellphone while driving.

While Schatz agreed that people should focus on driving, he questioned what makes eating a hamburger and driving more dangerous than talking on a phone.

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