STL Today: St. Louis County lawmaker vows to continue push for a ban on texting while driving

By Celeste Bott St. Louis Post-Dispatch
JEFFERSON CITY • More than 100 laws took effect in Missouri this week, but for another year, a statewide ban on texting while driving isn’t among them.

In 2009, the Missouri legislature passed a ban for drivers 21 and under, but after several attempts, no stricter legislation has made it past committee. Missouri is one of only four states – the others including Arizona, Montana and Texas – that don’t ban texting for all drivers.

“It seems like such a no-brainer, doesn’t it?” said Sen. Jill Schupp, a Creve Coeur Democrat who sponsored the most recent effort to ban the practice statewide. She also pushed for a law that would require all drivers to wear seat belts, which similarly stalled in the 2016 legislative session.

The measures reflect two causes Missouri police and the state Department of Transportation have been pushing for a long time, citing crash and fatality statistics they argue could be lower with stricter driving laws.

In a report to submitted to a joint legislative committee on transportation before the start of session, DOT urged lawmakers to consider stricter seat belt laws. Currently, police must have stopped a motorist for another reason before citing him or her for neglecting to wear a seat belt.

Between 2014 and 2015, Missouri’s fatal crashes revealed 63 percent of the fatalities were unbuckled when the crash occurred, according to the report.

Still, Missouri lawmakers have been resistant to tougher proposals. Opponents argue such legislation could inhibit personal freedoms and ultimately prove too difficult for police officers to enforce.

Schupp and supporters, in an effort to make the texting bill more palatable, suggested altering the original proposal to phase in the full effect of the law, giving the state the chance to educate the public before issuing tickets.

“It wasn’t our goal to just increase insurance costs for drivers,” she said.

They pushed for a plan that for a time would require police who pulled over drivers they believed to be texting to give them a warning. Drivers wouldn’t actually be fined or subject to points on their driver’s license until the third year of implementation. The bill also permitted motorists to send messages with hands-free voice activation.

It did little to ease opponents’ concerns, Schupp said.

Meanwhile, state agencies are left with educational outreach efforts, and local municipalities have tried to incorporate texting bans into broader driving laws that can’t be superseded by the state.

Schupp has pledged to continue pushing both seat belt requirements and statewide texting bans going forward.

“The dangers are clear. We need to put the phones down,” she said. “You can’t take your eyes off the road for a while and just assume what you’ve seen ahead is what’s going to be there.

“If you don’t want to be pulled over for not wearing your seat belt, wear your seat belt,” she added.

This post was written by