Despite such tragedies, Missouri is one of two states — the other is Montana — that do not prohibit all drivers from text messaging while operating vehicles. (Missouri has such a law for people 21 and under.)
Before this year, Missouri state lawmakers from both parties had proposed more than 80 bills since 2010 with varying levels of restrictions on cellphone use and driving. Similar legislation has been proposed in Montana, too. In both states, such bills have faltered, largely because Republican opponents say they don’t think the laws work and are just another infringement on people’s civil liberties.
Nevertheless, Missouri Republicans and Democrats introduced at least seven bills this session concerning hand-held phone use while driving — and road safety advocates think such legislation has a better chance of passing this year. Montana, meanwhile, has a bill seeking to block localities’ distracted driving laws.
Supporters of hands-free driving laws concede that distracted driving restrictions are not a panacea for all traffic fatalities. And even if Missouri passes additional restrictions on cellphone use, small nuances in wording could influence whether such a law is effective.
Nationwide, about 3,000 people typically die in distracted driving crashes each year, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, though researchers suggest that’s an undercount. While hands-free options are now standard for new vehicles, the number of distracted driving deaths has stayed relatively steady. They represented at least 1 in 12 traffic fatalities in 2020.
Distracted driving laws reduce fatalities — if, like the ones established in 24 states, they ban all hand-held cellphone use rather than banning only a specific activity such as texting, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association and a study published in 2021 in the journal Epidemiology. Banning texting alone does not make a difference, those researchers found.
Oregon and Washington saw significant reductions in the rates of monthly rear-end crashes when they broadened their laws to prohibit “holding” a cellphone as compared with states that banned only texting, according to a study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Those two states also prohibited holding a phone when stopped temporarily — say, at a red light.
Author(s): Eric Berger
Publication Date: 6 Feb 2023
Publication Site: Kaiser Health News