Missouri Senate passes bill outlawing distracted driving, texting while driving - bill now moves to House & you can help

Our members have consistently identified distracted driving and texting while driving as one of their top concerns.  For that reason, we have been working for years with a coalition of like-minded organizations across Missouri to support distracted driving and texting-while-driving legislation.

Senator Dave Schatz of Sullivan
Senator Dave Schatz of Sullivan is the sponsor of HB 1050

Year after year, this important legislation has been stopped by a few powerful legislators.

But now one of those legislators is sponsoring a bill with strong language restricting all kinds of distracted driving behaviors and use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.

The Missouri Senate has been the stopping point for distracted driving bills in past years and for nearly all bills in 2018.

But now SB 1050, sponsored by Senator Dave Schatz of Sullivan, has has passed the Missouri Senate by a vote of 28-3.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration. Distracted driving bills have historically received strong support among House members and leadership.  But the clock is ticking on the 2018 legislative session in Missouri--will there be enough time left to pass thebill?

How you can help

What does SB 1050 say about distracted driving?

Below is the portion of SB 1050 dealing with distracted driving. In the text, plain text represents current law & bold text shows words added under SB 1050.

304.012.1. Every person operating a motor vehicle on the roads and highways of this state shall drive the vehicle in a careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed so as not to endanger the property of another or the life or limb of any person and shall exercise the highest degree of care.

2. Violations of the degree of care required in subsection 1 of this section may include if proven to have caused the driver of the vehicle to be distracted, but not be limited to, operation of a vehicle while using a cellphone, personal digital assistant, electronic device with mobile data access, laptop computer, pager, electronic game, portable computing device, or global navigation satellite system receiver other than via hands free or voice-operated technology which may include the use of a headset, or while otherwise diverting one's attention from safe operation of the vehicle. This subsection shall not apply to the use of a device or technology that is permanently embedded into the architecture and design of the motor vehicle, but the use of such embedded device or technology shall be subject to subsection 1 of this section.

Any person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a class B misdemeanor and shall be fined not less than twenty-five dollars, unless an accident is involved then it shall be a class A misdemeanor and the person shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars.

Additionally, HB 1050 repeals the current prohibition on texting for drivers 21 years and younger, because that is replaced by the general restrictions on all such devices for all drivers.

It also removes the exception allowing non-commercial drivers to make cell phone calls & commercial drivers to speak with dispatch. Both of those activities are allowed but must be hands-free as outlined above in 304.012.  These changes are made in 304.820 of the complete bill text.

Complete text of SB 1050 as passed by the Senate is here.

SB 1050 pluses and minuses: Overall it's a huge positive

In general, SB 1050 seems to be a very good approach to distracted driving, cell phone use and texting, and electronic device use.

  • It defines distracted driving broadly, outlawing any action that distracts the driver. This not only covers more distracted driving behaviors than other approaches, but also future-proofs the bill.
  • At the same time, it lists many common specific distracted driving behaviors and makes it crystal clear that they are prohibited. Clarity will help with education and enforcement that will follow after the bill has passed and are a very important element that will help reduce distracted driving.
  • It applies to all drivers: Drivers under 21 and over, commercial and non-commercial. Previous Missouri distracted driving bills have applied to only some drivers.
  • It, for the first time, adds minimum required fines for distracted driving.
  • The bill fits the distracted driving element into the current requirement for Missouri drivers to "exercise the highest degree of care". This is a logical connection for the law to make and allows judges to make decisions about electronic device use based upon whether the driver was or was not exercising the highest degree of care at the time.

Some elements could be strengthened:

  • The phrase "if proven to have caused the driver of the vehicle to be distracted" will make it difficult to enforce the distracted driving language. This language was added during Senate floor debate on the bill by powerful Senator Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph.  Without this change, it is likely that Schaaf--perhaps joined by other senators with similar views--would have filibustered the bill.
  • The minimum required fines are quite low--particularly, a minimum fine of $100 when distracted driving causes a collision or injury. These minimum amounts were lowered during Senate Floor debate and this change, again, helped avoid opposition to the bill. Judges can add additional fines and even jail time for the distracted driving violations, if circumstances warrant.
  • We know that even hands-free cell phone use is quite distracting for drivers. This bill allows cell phone operation and use as long as it is hands free. Nevertheless, requiring hands-free operation is a big advance in safety--it at least allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road.  The hands-free element was the main compromise that allowed this bill to move forward in the Senate this year.

Overall, HB 1050 is a major improvement over current Missouri distracted driving law. The weak portions of the bill are clearly required to pass the legislation given current personalities in the Missouri General Assembly, and even though they weaken the bill somewhat, they are relatively minor disadvantages that must be seen in light of the major positive step the distracted driving language as a whole takes.

Missouri is one of just three states where texting and driving is still legal. This affects the safety of everyone who uses our roads and streets--and affects the safety of people who walk and bicycle most of all. We need to change this now.

Addressing the texting while driving issue was one of the major recommendations of the Missouri 21st Century Transportation System Task Force, co-chaired by Senator Schatz.  This Task Force was created during the 2017 legislative session when MoBikeFed worked with our allies across the state to ensure that walking, bicycling, public transit, and other transportation modes were part of the Task Force's mission.