Why Two States Remain Holdouts on Distracted Driving Laws

Max Herrick pulled over on the interstate close to Harrisonville, Missouri, on a spring night time in 2020 to supply antifreeze to a lady whose automotive had overheated.

He had misplaced a grandson to an overdose simply hours earlier than, however aiding stranded motorists was second nature to the 73-year-old retired college custodian, who remembered hundreds of scholars’ names and usually introduced meals pantry donations to a retirement neighborhood. “He all the time was there to assist folks,” stated his son Bobby Herrick, who was within the automotive with him that night time.

Simply moments later, a truck driver making an attempt to textual content his spouse an image of the hand sanitizer he had bought swerved onto the shoulder and plowed into the automobiles, in accordance with courtroom and crash information. Whereas the truck driver was not injured and the lady and Bobby Herrick recovered from their accidents, Max Herrick turned one in every of at the very least 382 individuals who died in Missouri crashes involving a distracted driver from 2017 via 2021, in accordance with the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety.

Regardless of such tragedies, Missouri is one in every of two states — the opposite is Montana — that don’t prohibit all drivers from textual content messaging whereas working automobiles. (Missouri has such a regulation for folks 21 and underneath.)

Earlier than this yr, Missouri state lawmakers from each events had proposed greater than 80 payments since 2010 with various ranges of restrictions on cellphone use and driving. Comparable laws has been proposed in Montana, too. In each states, such payments have faltered, largely as a result of Republican opponents say they don’t assume the legal guidelines work and are simply one other infringement on folks’s civil liberties.

However, Missouri Republicans and Democrats launched at the very least seven payments this session regarding hand-held telephone use whereas driving — and highway security advocates assume such laws has a greater likelihood of passing this yr. Montana, in the meantime, has a invoice in search of to dam localities’ distracted driving legal guidelines.

“I’m from the occasion that desires to reduce the quantity of legal guidelines — and I agree — however you bought to be good about it,” stated Jeff Porter, a Republican and former Missouri state consultant who proposed laws thrice to restrict hand-held cellphone use. “There are literally legal guidelines which might be wanted to attempt to present consciousness and save pointless deaths.”

Supporters of hands-free driving legal guidelines concede that distracted driving restrictions are usually not a panacea for all visitors fatalities. And even when Missouri passes further restrictions on cellphone use, small nuances in wording may affect whether or not such a regulation is efficient.

Nationwide, about 3,000 folks usually die in distracted driving crashes every year, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, although researchers recommend that’s an undercount. Whereas hands-free choices are actually customary for brand spanking new automobiles, the variety of distracted driving deaths has stayed comparatively regular. They represented at the very least 1 in 12 visitors fatalities in 2020.

Distracted driving legal guidelines cut back fatalities — if, like those established in 24 states, they ban all hand-held cellphone use relatively than banning solely a particular exercise comparable to texting, in accordance with the Governors Freeway Security Affiliation and a study published in 2021 within the journal Epidemiology. Banning texting alone doesn’t make a distinction, these researchers discovered.

Oregon and Washington noticed important reductions within the charges of month-to-month rear-end crashes once they broadened their legal guidelines to ban “holding” a cellphone as in contrast with states that banned solely texting, according to a study from the Insurance coverage Institute for Freeway Security. These two states additionally prohibited holding a telephone when stopped briefly — say, at a pink gentle.

“If you happen to inform a driver that they’re breaking the regulation simply by holding the telephone of their hand, a police officer who’s making an attempt to implement that regulation doesn’t must resolve whether or not or not the motive force is texting,” stated Ian Reagan, a senior analysis scientist on the Insurance coverage Institute.

In contrast, California broadened its texting bans to ban “holding and utilizing” a telephone however didn’t specify whether or not that ban utilized to a driver stopped briefly. It didn’t see a major discount in rear-end crashes, which the researchers stated are a extra telling metric than the often-underreported crashes attributed to distracted driving.

Regardless of the trigger, visitors fatalities have soared for the reason that pandemic started. Among the many 10 states with the best charges of deaths from deadly motorcar crashes in 2020, in accordance with the Insurance coverage Institute, just one, Tennessee, had a ban on hand-held telephone use for all drivers on the time. Among the many 10 states with the bottom charges of such fatalities, all however Utah had a hand-held ban for all drivers.

Montana ranked fifth-highest, and Missouri got here in at No. 12.

Adrienne Siddens misplaced her husband, Randall, who was working at a Columbia, Missouri, triathlon in 2019, as a result of a lady utilizing her cellphone to video chat was driving 18 mph over the velocity restrict and never being attentive to automobiles stopped at a pink gentle. The motive force swerved and entered a lane that was closed for the race, in accordance with courtroom information.

The girl hit two pedestrians, together with Randall, who flew greater than 127 toes. He spent a lot of the subsequent six months on life assist earlier than dying.

A photo shows Adrienne and Randall Siddens posing for a selfie together outside.
Adrienne Siddens misplaced her husband, Randall, in 2019 after a driver utilizing a telephone to video chat hit two pedestrians, together with Randall, at a triathlon in Columbia, Missouri. She has since campaigned — to this point unsuccessfully — for Missouri so as to add legal guidelines banning distracted driving.(Randall Siddens)

“I now have to lift our three lovely infants alone,” Adrienne Siddens, who was pregnant with their third baby when the crash occurred, testified in a March 2022 listening to on Porter’s invoice. “Along with your assist, passing this laws and imposing a hands-free coverage, so many different households won’t must expertise this grief.”

Republicans referred the laws to the state Home’s Downsizing State Authorities Committee. The invoice died.

State Rep. Tony Lovasco, a Republican who served on the committee, advised KHN he’s involved that both regulation enforcement may use a ban to cease folks randomly or they’d have issue imposing it.

“I’m very hesitant to undertake a prohibition on a specific form of distraction, versus merely imposing the visitors legal guidelines and ensuring that folks aren’t weaving out and in of lanes,” stated Lovasco.

In Montana, Republicans comparable to state Sen. Jeremy Trebas not solely don’t assist a statewide ban, however additionally they need to overrule Missoula and the 14 different Montana cities, cities, and tribal governments that have enacted bans on hand-held cellphone use whereas driving.

“These legal guidelines are going to make the roads extra harmful as a result of persons are simply going to cover it and put the telephone decrease of their automotive as a substitute of protecting their telephone up and their eyes up,” stated Trebas, who drafted legislation this year that might forestall native governments from enacting such ordinances. Trebas described his proof to assist that assertion as “largely anecdotal.”

John MacDonald, a former lobbyist for Missoula, opposed an identical invoice by Trebas that failed in 2017. MacDonald ascribed resistance to a statewide ban to the identical forces that made Montana the final state to ascertain a numerical velocity restrict; its restrict was “affordable and prudent” until 1999.

“It’s one thing ingrained in Montana that our car is form of an extension of our residence, and the federal government shouldn’t be dictating to us how we are able to behave in that car,” stated MacDonald.

A regulation like Trebas’ proposal already exists in Missouri: Even when a Missouri municipality establishes a ban on texting and driving, because the St. Louis suburb Kirkwood did in 2014, it’s not enforceable as a result of the state says its regulation supersedes native ordinances.

Angela Nelson, AAA Missouri’s vice chairman of public affairs and authorities relations, stated her group’s previous schooling on the perils of distracted driving has helped place new statewide proposals to cross this yr. The group, a part of a coalition that goals to curb distracted driving accidents, endorsed legislation from two Republicans that restricts holding an digital communication machine, in addition to utilizing one, whereas driving. Different Republican legislators launched a measure to simply broaden the texting ban to all drivers, no matter age. AAA has not taken a place on that one.

Lovasco, although, stated it was too early to foretell whether or not any will cross.

Siddens, who has advocated for such payments since she misplaced her husband, stays optimistic that Missouri lawmakers will cross a more durable regulation after listening to concerning the tragedies for therefore a few years. “In some unspecified time in the future, they are going to do one thing about it,” she stated. “They must.”


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