But that is soon about to change.
The Missouri state Senate is only one vote shy of passing a bill that would ban texting while driving, a practice that is illegal in every state except for Missouri and Montana. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the bill will be sent to the House once that additional Senate vote is confirmed. Like Montana, Missouri currently only bans drivers 21 and younger from texting while driving and the new law would make it a secondary offense for drivers of all ages. But does that go far enough?
Originally, the state's lawmakers wanted to make texting while driving a primary traffic offense, allowing police to pull over and cite drivers if they were caught in the act. However, an amendment to the act was added by Sen. Rick Brattin deeming texting and driving a secondary offense. What's the difference? Police can only give a ticket for texting if they pull the driver over for a resulting illegal action, like running a stop sign or speeding.
Texting while driving by itself won't be a crime and that rightfully angers some lawmakers, especially the bill's author, Sen. Jason Bean. "If a police officer saw a person texting and said ... 'they're not distracted; there's nothing wrong,' and then ... 10 seconds later they hit a construction worker, they could've possibly stopped that, correct?" Bean asked.
The reply from his fellow lawmaker, Sen. Brattin, was not exactly helpful: "In that hypothetical," Brattin said, "... there are so many variables. I mean we're not outlawing eating a cheeseburger."
Bean's legislation would also ban drivers from holding an "electronic communication device," though there will be exceptions to things like selecting music and working on a navigation app, and calling 911. Making a phone call would also be outlawed unless it's being done via voice activation, a feature that is typically standard on new vehicles.
The report did not mention how the proposed bill would handle semi-autonomous driving and texting, but it's important to note that Autopilot (including FSD) functionality in cars like the Tesla Model S legally requires the driver to be concentrating at all times. Only Level 3 autonomous driving - like the Mercedes Drive Pilot approval granted in Nevada - legally creates an environment where the driver does not have to be looking at the road ahead. Since Missouri has no provisions for such autonomy yet, it naturally hasn't been considered.
Drivers caught texting and driving won't pay a hefty price. As the bill currently reads, motorists would only be fined $150 on their first conviction within two years, and zero points would be deducted from their license. That's not a very harsh punishment when compared to other states.
In Colorado, for example, texting while driving is a primary offense where motorists are fined $300 and have four points slashed from their licenses. A subsequent offense results in another four points, up to one year in prison, and/or a $1,000 fine.
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