After more than a decade of trying, Missouri legislature finally passes Siddens Bening Hands Free Law, prohibiting texting and electronic device use while driving

Thursday, May 11th, the Missouri House & Senate finally passed SB 398, including the "Siddens Bening Hands Free Law" which prohibits texting and other electronic device use while driving. 

Missouri is one of two states that does not regulate texting while driving
Missouri is one of two states that does not regulate texting and electronic device use while driving. When this bill is signed into law, that will change! Missouri started working on the texting while driving law back when this style of cell phone was the most common. Those efforts where blocked by a few powerful Missouri Senators, who are not term-limited out of office. That is the reason the texting-while-driving bill was finally able to pass this year.

Missouri is one of just two states still lacking a law prohibiting texting while driving.  The Missouri Legislature has been working to regulate electronic device use while driving since the late 2000s - passing a law that applied only to those 21 and under in 2009,  but otherwise unable to move any legislation forward thanks to opposition by a few key senators.

Missouri legislators have considered distracted driving and cell phone laws for nearly two decades. In that time, 48 states have passed laws banning texting while driving. Every state adjoining Missouri and in fact every state in the Midwest has banned texting while driving. And many states don't just ban texting while driving, but have even stronger rules regulating the use of electronic devices while driving - similar to the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law passed Thursday.

The Siddens Bening Hands Free Law was introduced as part of SB 56, sponsored by Senator Jason Bean of Peach Orchard, and SB 61, sponsored by Senator Greg Razer of Jackson County.

The two bills were then combined and refined. The resulting text, renamed the "Siddens Bening Hands Free Law" was then incorporated into SB 398, sponsored by Senator Nick Schroer of St Charles County. SB 398 was given final passage by the Missouri General Assembly Thursday.  The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

What the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law does

Full text of the bill is below.  But here are the high points.

The Siddens Bening Hands Free Law prohibits this behavior while driving:  

  • Drivers can't text, type, browse the internet, send any message, or watch a video on an electronic device
     
  • Drivers can't hold or support an electronic device
     
  • Make any communication, such as a phone call or voice message, unless solely using voice-operated or hands-free features and in a manner that does not distract from driving
     
  • Record or broadcast video, including participating in video conferences (Zoom etc)

The bill includes a number of exceptions to these prohibitions. You can use an electronic device, text, type, make a call etc, as appropriate in these situations:

  • Reporting an emergency situation and continuing communication with emergency personnel
     
  • While the vehicle is lawfully stopped or parked
     
  • Viewing a map for navigation purposes
     
  • Listening to audio broadcasts or digital audio recordings
     
  • Law enforcement officers and emergency vehicle operators while in the performance of official duties
     
  • Commercial vehicle drivers and bus drivers have a number of exceptions to allow the use of certain types of screens and communications devices under certain conditions

Penalties:

  • Fines start at $150 and go up as high as $500 with repeated convictions 
    Senator Jason Bean of Peach Orchard sponsored SB 56
    Senator Jason Bean of Peach Orchard sponsored SB 56
     
     
  • Violation in a work or school zone results in a fine up to $500
     
  • Unless there is a complicating factor, violations are considered "infractions"
     
  • Violation causing property damage or serious physical injury are considered misdeanors (Class D and Class B, respectively)
     
  • Violation causing death is considered a Class D felony
     
  • Violation while operating a commercial vehicle is considered a "serious traffic violation" under state law, with ramifications for commercial driver's license disqualification
     
  • Law enforcement officers cannot use violation of this statute as a basis to search the electronic device, or to establish probable cause for any other violation
     
  • Drivers cannot be stopped, inspected, or detained solely for violation of this section
     
  • If signed by the governor, the law will go into effect in August 2023.  However, until January 1st, 2025, noncommercial drivers will receive warning only rather than citations.
     
  • The state pre-empts the regulation of electronic devices while driving, meaning that cities and counties cannot pass conflicting or more restrictive laws related to texting and use of electronic devices while driving.  This is not a change - the same pre-emption has been in place since 2009, when Missouri passed its first law dealing with electronic device use while driving.  That 2009 law applied only to drivers 21 years of age and under.

Who are Randall Siddens and Michael Bening

Michael Bening, 41, of Raymore was killed by a suspected distracted driver on May 13th, 2021. Randall Siddens, was killed May 5th 2019 by a distracted driver - using Facetime and doing nearly 20 mph over the speed limit.

Hundreds have been killed and many thousands injured in Missouri by distracted drivers.  Naming the bill after these two specific, real people really helps bring home the message - distracted driving crashes destroy the lives of real people and real families.

This video tells Randall's story:

 

Full text of "Siddens Bening Hands Free Law"

304.822. 1. This section shall be known as the "Siddens Bening Hands Free Law". 
Senator Nick Schroer of St Charles County sponsored SB 398
Senator Nick Schroer of St Charles County sponsored SB 398
 

2. As used in this section, the following terms shall mean:

(1) "Commercial motor vehicle", the same meaning as is ascribed to such term in section 302.700;

(2) "Electronic communication device", a portable device that is used to initiate, receive, store, or view communication, information, images, or data electronically;

(a) Such term shall include but not be limited to: cellular telephones; portable telephones; text-messaging devices; personal digital assistants; pagers; broadband personal communication devices; electronic devices with mobile data access; computers, including but not limited to tablets, laptops, notebook computers, and electronic or video game systems; devices capable of transmitting, retrieving, or displaying a video, movie, broadcast television image, or visual image; and any substantially similar device that is used to initiate or receive communication or store and review information, videos, images, or data;

(b) Such term shall not include: radios; citizens band radios; commercial two way radio communication devices or their functional equivalent; subscription-based emergency communication devices; prescribed medical devices; amateur or ham radio devices; or global positioning system receivers, security, navigation, communication, or remote diagnostics systems permanently affixed to the vehicle;

(3) "Highway", the same meaning as is ascribed to such term in section 302.010;

(4) "Noncommercial motor vehicle", the same meaning as is ascribed to such term in section 302.700;

(5) "Operating", the actual physical control of a vehicle;

(6) "Operator", a person who is in actual physical control;

(7) "School bus", the same meaning as is ascribed to such term in section 302.700;

(8) "Voice-operated or hands-free feature or function", a feature or function, whether internally installed or externally attached or connected to an electronic communication device, that allows a person to use an electronic communication device without the use of either hand, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate the feature or function with a single touch or single swipe.

3. Except as otherwise provided in this section, while operating a noncommercial motor vehicle or commercial motor vehicle on any highway or property open to the public for vehicular traffic in this state, no operator shall:

(1) Physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body, an electronic communication device;

(2) Write, send, or read any text-based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, email, or social media interaction on an electronic communication device. This subdivision shall not apply to operators of a noncommercial motor vehicle using a voice-operated or hands-free feature or function that converts the message to be sent as a message in a written form, provided that the operator does not divert his or her attention from lawful operation of the vehicle;

(3) Make any communication on an electronic communication device, including a phone call, voice message, or one-way voice communication; provided however, that this prohibition shall not apply to use of a voice-operated or hands-free feature or function;

(4) Engage in any form of electronic data retrieval or electronic data communication on an electronic communication device;

(5) Manually enter letters, numbers, or symbols into any website, search engine, or application on an electronic communication device;

(6) Watch a video or movie on an electronic communication device, other than watching data related to the navigation of the vehicle; or

(7) Record, post, send, or broadcast video, including a video conference, on an electronic communication device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to electronic devices used for the sole purpose of continually monitoring operator behavior by recording or broadcasting video within or outside the vehicle.

4. The operator of a school bus shall not use or operate an electronic communication device while the school bus is in motion unless the device is being used in a similar manner as a two-way radio to allow live communication between the operator and school officials or public safety officials. The operator of a school bus shall not use or operate an electronic communication device or a two-way radio while loading or unloading passengers.

5. This section shall not apply to:

(1) Law enforcement officers or operators of emergency vehicles, as such term is defined in section 304.022, who are both using the electronic communication device and operating the emergency vehicle in the performance of their official duties;

(2) Operators using an electronic communication device for the sole purpose of reporting an emergency situation and continuing communication with emergency personnel during the emergency situation;

(3) Operators of noncommercial motor vehicles using an electronic communication device solely through a voice-operated or hands-free feature or function;

(4) Operators of commercial motor vehicles using a voice-operated or hands-free feature or function, as long as the operator remains seated and is restrained by a seat belt as required by law;

(5) Operators of commercial motor vehicles reading a message displayed on a permanently installed communication device designed for a commercial motor vehicle with a screen that does not exceed ten inches tall by ten inches wide in size;

(6) Operators using electronic communication devices while the vehicle is lawfully stopped or parked;

(7) Commercial motor vehicles that are responding to a request for roadside assistance, when such response is conducted by a motor club as defined in section 385.450 or a towing company as defined in section 304.001;

(8) The use of an electronic communication device to relay information between a transit or for-hire vehicle operator and that operator's dispatcher, provided the device is mounted or affixed to the vehicle;

(9) The use of an electronic communication device to access or view a map for navigational purposes;

(10) The use of an electronic communication device to access or listen to an audio broadcast or digital audio recording; or

(11) The use of an electronic communication device to relay information through a transportation network company's digital network to a transportation network company driver, provided the device is mounted or affixed to the vehicle.

6. Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, violation of this section shall be an infraction. Penalties for violations of this section shall be as provided in this subsection. Prior convictions shall be pleaded and proven in the same manner as required under section 558.021.

(1) For a conviction under this section where there is no prior conviction under this section within the preceding twenty-four months, the court shall impose a fine of up to one hundred fifty dollars.

(2) For a conviction under this section where there is one prior conviction under this section within the preceding twenty-four months, the court shall impose a fine of up to two hundred fifty dollars.

(3) For a conviction under this section where there are two or more prior convictions under this section in the preceding twenty-four months, the court shall impose a fine of up to five hundred dollars.

(4) For a conviction under this section where the violation occurred in a work zone when workers are present, as such terms are defined in section 304.580, or for a conviction under this section where the violation occurred in an area designated as a school zone and marked in any way that would alert a reasonably prudent operator to the presence of the school zone, the court shall impose a fine of up to five hundred dollars.

(5) A violation of this section that is the proximate cause of damage to property in excess of five thousand dollars shall be a class D misdemeanor.

(6) A violation of this section that is the proximate cause of serious physical injury to another person shall be a class B misdemeanor.

(7) A violation of this section that is the proximate cause of the death of another person shall be a class D felony.

(8) A violation of this section while operating a commercial motor vehicle shall be deemed a serious traffic violation, as such term is defined in section 302.700, for purposes of commercial driver's license disqualification under section 302.755.

7. A law enforcement officer who stops a noncommercial motor vehicle for a violation of this section shall inform the operator of the operator's right to decline a search of their electronic communication device. No warrant shall be issued to confiscate or 127 access an electronic communication device based on a violation of this section unless the violation results in serious bodily injury or death.

8. A violation of this section shall not be used to establish probable cause for any other violation.

9. The provisions of this section shall be subject to the reporting requirements set forth in section 590.650.
Senator Greg Razer of Jackson County sponsored SB 61
Senator Greg Razer of Jackson County sponsored SB 61

10. The state preempts the field of regulating the use of electronic communication devices by the operators of commercial and noncommercial motor vehicles. The provisions of this section shall supercede any local laws, ordinances, orders, rules, or regulations enacted by a county, municipality, or other political subdivision to regulate the use of electronic communication devices by the operator of a commercial or noncommercial motor vehicle.

11. Prior to January 1, 2025, a law enforcement officer who stops a noncommercial motor vehicle for a violation of this section shall not issue a citation for a violation of this section and shall only issue a warning.

12. No person shall be stopped, inspected, or detained solely for a violation of this section.
 


The text above is from the House Committee version of SB 398 (see p. 7). The text incorporates one amendment passed on the House floor that affects this portion of the bill: HA 1, offered by Rep. Knight (1413H07.16H).

At press time, the final, official version of the text was not yet available. 

Relevant bill pages and links

Thanks to legislators, organizations, agencies, and citizens who have worked hard for more than a decade to make this law a reality

The electronic device legislation has had strong bipartisan support in both Missouri House and Senate for many years. Only the opposition of a very few key Senators stopped the bill from moving forward several times over the past decade. With term limits, those senators are now gone and the legislation was able to more forward this year.

Spending a few minutes sending thank-you notes to the main sponsors of the legislation that finally passed is really helpful:

Many other Missouri Senators and Representatives have worked to support bills like these over the past two decades.  If you search the Missouri General Assembly legislation page for terms like electronic device, texting, and communications device you will find many bills filed in every recent legislative session.

Thanks and kudos go many organizations, agencies, and businesses who have supported distracted driving bills over recent years. In the bicycle & pedestrian realm, Missourians for Responsible Transportation, Trailnet, Local Motion, Ozark Greenways, and BikeWalkKC have played important roles.

MoDOT and the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety have made this legislation a top priority for many years. AAA Missouri and other insurance companies have made it a priority as well. Cell phone companies have supported the campaign as well, as have health and medical organizations. And an online citizens group called Hands-Free Missouri played an important role as well.

Finally, a huge thanks goes to every MoBikeFed member and citizen who has taken the time to write or call their legislators about this issue over the years, and those who have visited the capitol at MoBikeFed's Capitol Day or other events through the years.  Every one of those legislator contacts helps drive the message home and build support for the issue.

We have included distracted driving and texting while driving as one of our top legislative issues, and highlighted it during Capitol Day and other legislator visits, for many years now.  Any of you who helped during those years, visited legislators, rode our annual Legislators Ride, called or emailed helped carry that message.

Thank you!

We often say, it takes an average of seven years to pass a bill.  This is a great example - in fact it took almost twenty years to pass the bill we really wanted - and in fact we may need to revisit the issue in the future.  Sometimes you have to outvote your opponents, sometimes you have to outsmart them, sometimes you have to bring overwhelming public pressure and media attention to bear. 

And - as in this case - sometimes you just have to outwait them, while you prepare.

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this work over the past many years.

 

 

 

Improving safety for all road users in one of four primary goals in MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. Working with the Missouri legislature to improve Missouri's traffic safety laws is one way we work towards that goal.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support makes that work possible and helps turn our Vision into reality!

Join MoBikeFed's Advocacy Network

MoBikeFed is a statewide group of people like you, working together for better bicycling, walking, and trails in Missouri. When you join our advocacy network you receive occasional important advocacy alerts and bicycle, pedestrian, and trails news from around Missouri.

Working together we make a real difference! Join our advocacy network: