Editorials

Texting while driving can kill. Why is it still allowed on Missouri roads?

Distracted driving PSA: ‘Famous Last Words’

In 2015, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. If you text and drive, your next message may be your last.
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In 2015, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. If you text and drive, your next message may be your last.

Admit it. At some point, nearly all of us have done it. You know you shouldn’t, but if you just fire off a quick text message from behind the wheel, it’s no big deal, right?

Every day, Missourians attempt the death-defying feat of texting while driving. And for most, there are no consequences for putting others’ safety at risk.

Even though the dangers of using a cellphone, tablet or GPS device while driving are well known, many remain convinced that they can type and steer simultaneously at high speeds.

Incredibly, Missouri lawmakers haven’t acted to put a stop to this. That needs to change this year.

Sure, the state has a law that prohibits anyone under 21 from operating a motor vehicle while texting or talking on hand-held mobile devices. But it’s indefensible that Missouri legislators haven’t imposed the same no-brainer restrictions on drivers of all ages.

Missouri is one of only three states without a no-texting law for all drivers. Kansas banned texting while driving for all eight years ago.

Missouri is the only state that allows adults to text and drive — but not teens. Why? Because some lawmakers believe a ban would infringe on civil liberties.

Of course, that flawed argument has been rejected by other states, which wisely have made public safety their priority.

“When you choose to text and drive, you’re not only putting your own life at risk you’re putting the lives of everyone around you at risk as well,” said Heidi Geisbuhler, director of legislative affairs for the Missouri State Medical Association. The MSMA advocates to ban texting while driving. “At a certain point, it doesn’t involve your own personal liberty.”

Several measures failed to move in the General Assembly last year. But this year, Missouri lawmakers should finally follow the lead of nearly every other state and take the very uncontroversial step of prohibiting texting from behind the wheel.

Fortunately, state Sen. Wayne Wallingford, a Republican from Cape Girardeau, has introduced Senate Bill 15, which would essentially ban texting for all drivers. Guilty parties would face a $50 fine, and the penalty would double in a work or school zone.

The bill was read last week, and Wallingford expects a second reading in the not-so-distant future.

Distracted driving is not limited to young people. Approximately 70 percent of drivers in Missouri who were using cellphones at the time of a traffic crash were 22 years of age or older, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation. And a driver is 23 times more likely to be in a critical incident when they are texting and driving.

Since 2014, cellphone-related crashes in Missouri have increased by 35 percent, with nearly 2,600 crashes in 2017. At least 100 people died from distracted driving the previous year.

“Freedom comes with responsibility,” Wallingford said. “Safety is paramount.”

Over in the Missouri House, Greg Razer, a Democratic state representative from Kansas City, has introduced House Bill 211 to address the problem. The fines would be identical to the punishment proposed by Wallingford. The bill has been read twice and is waiting to be assigned to committee.

Razer correctly notes that an all-ages ban in Missouri is long overdue.

“We’re all guilty of it,” Razer said. “It’s a habit we’ve all learned. We need to unlearn it.”

That indisputable fact — and the need for a ban on texting while driving — should be two things that all Missouri lawmakers can agree on.

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