Distracted Driving: The Laws in Missouri

woman driving while taking a picture with her smart phone

Driving throughout the state, it’s easy to see people texting while driving or who are otherwise distracted and not paying attention to the road in front of them. Each year, distracted driving leads to a number of crashes, serious injuries, and even death. Missouri has recently enacted laws to help combat distracted driving, and all drivers should be aware of the laws so they can drive safely throughout the state. 

What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is driving while doing anything else that could take the driver’s attention from the vehicle. It includes anything that makes the drive take their hand off the steering wheel, such as grabbing a bite to eat or changing the radio, as well as anything that causes the driver to take their eyes off the road, such as looking at a GPS for directions or turning to check on kids in the back seat. Distracted driving can also be anything that takes the driver’s mind off what they’re doing, such as talking with a passenger or thinking about what to do that day instead of driving. 

Stats for Distracted Driving

woman on her phone in car

Even a split second of inattention can lead to an accident. In 2019 in Missouri, there were more than 5,000 personal injury car accidents attributed to distracted driving, as well as more than 13,000 that caused property damage only. More than 7,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents, and 75 people died. The total number of crashes is higher than crashes caused by excessive speed, improper lane changes, and other traffic violations. 

Younger drivers led to more than 3,500 car accidents due to distracted driving. The top reasons for being distracted, according to the younger drivers, are external distractions, using a communication device, and adjusting the radio or speaking with passengers. For communication devices, common causes of distracted driving cited by younger drivers include texting or emailing, browsing the internet, playing games, and using handheld or hands-free devices. 

Laws in Missouri

The current distracted driving laws in Missouri are aimed at younger drivers and commercial drivers. Those who are 21 years of age or younger are not allowed to drive while reading or responding to a text using a handheld device. It is legal to use a handheld device to talk on the phone or to send and receive texts through a hand-free device. For commercial drivers, it is not legal to use a handheld phone for calls or to send or receive texts. For all other drivers, it is legal to text and drive or to do other activities that could be distracting, such as talk on the phone, but it is not recommended. 

Exemptions to Laws

There are exemptions to the distracted driving laws for commercial drivers and those who are younger than 21 years old. It is possible to use electronic devices when parked lawfully, when reporting illegal activities, to request emergency assistance, for dispatch services, and to prevent injury to a person or damage to a property. If any of these exemptions apply, the driver will not receive a ticket for the instance. The other main exemption is that law enforcement, fire department, and ambulance drivers are exempt from the laws completely while they are performing their official duties. 

Fines for Violating Distracted Driving Laws

Missouri laws state that it is possible for drivers to be stopped and given a ticket for distracted driving even if they are not breaking any other driving laws. This is called primary enforcement. If an officer sees the driver texting, reading a text, or doing any other activity that is prohibited, they can write a ticket. The ticket, called an infraction or moving violation, includes a $200 fine and will add points to the driver’s license. The points, when there are enough, will cause further consequences for the driver, such as a suspended license. On top of this, drivers who receive a ticket and points on their license may see an increase in insurance costs. 

How to Avoid Distracted Driving

Despite knowing the statistics for distracted driving, many people still end up distracted while they’re on the road, even if they’re otherwise careful drivers. There are, however, many ways to help prevent distracted driving and keep a focus on the road. Some of the ways to avoid distracted driving include the following.

  • Turn the Phone Off – Turning the phone off or turning it to “do not disturb” mode ensures texts and phone calls will wait until the driver is parked. With the phone off, it’s no longer tempting to try to browse the internet or text while waiting at a red light or sitting in traffic. 
  • Don’t Call Loved Ones Who May be Driving – If a family member or friend is likely driving, wait to give them a call. If they do answer the phone while driving, ask them to call back once they’re parked. 
  • Plan the Route Before Leaving – Knowing how to get somewhere eliminates the need to use the GPS while driving. If it’s not possible to remember the route or know how to get somewhere, use a GPS device that can speak the directions, so it’s not necessary to look at the screen. 
  • Find a Safe Place to Pull Over – Sometimes, there are emergencies that need to be handled immediately. If someone calls and it is urgent, find a safe place to pull over and then continue the conversation. 
  • Never Reach for Something that Falls – If something falls off the seat, do not reach over to pick it up. Instead, pull over to a safe location and then pick up the item that fell. 

Distracted driving leads to thousands of car accidents per year and a significant amount of injuries and death. While Missouri laws are aimed at younger drivers and commercial drivers, it is imperative all drivers keep their focus on the road to help prevent accidents and arrive at their destination safely. Using the tips here can help drivers remain in control of their vehicle and keep an eye on the road for anything that could be hazardous, saving them from being seriously injured in a car accident.