Why Two States Remain Holdouts on Distracted Driving Laws

Distracted driving causes a significant number of accidents in the US. And while most states have laws in place to prohibit distracted driving, Missouri and Montana are the exceptions. While Missouri does have a law prohibiting drivers up to 21 years of age from texting while driving, these two states currently lack a law for drivers of all ages.

According to Harrisonburg car accident lawyers, the two states witness several traffic crashes every year due to drivers texting while on the roads, and some of these result in fatalities too. For instance, records by the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety show that at least 382 people died due to accidents caused by distracted driving in Missouri between 2017 to 2021.

In Missouri, more than 80 bills on this issue have been proposed by state lawmakers since 2010 – each with different degrees of restrictions on using cell phones while driving. The situation in Montana is also similar. However, none of these were passed, mostly because of Republican opponents who consider laws to be an infringement on the civil liberties of people.

In spite of that, around seven bills have been introduced in Missouri in the current session by both Republicans and Democrats who are concerned about the use of hand-held phones while driving. Road safety advocates within the state are optimistic that such legislation may finally be passed this year.

Jeff Porter, former Missouri state representative, and a Republican said, “I’m from the party that wants to minimize the amount of laws — and I agree — but you got to be smart about it.” Porter has proposed laws to restrict the use of hand-held phones while driving thrice. “There are actually laws that are needed to try to provide awareness and save unnecessary death,” he added.

According to data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, close to 3000 people across the US die every year due to accidents resulting from distracted driving. Even though new vehicles are designed with hands-free options, there hasn’t been a noticeable decline in the number of fatalities caused by distracted driving. According to records, at least 1 in 12 traffic fatalities in 2020 was a result of such negligent driving.

Governors Highway Safety Association has emphasized that distracted driving laws are most effective in reducing fatalities when they totally prohibit hand-held cellphone use while driving instead of restricting it to certain activities such as texting. These findings are also supported by a study published in 2021.

For example, states like Washington and Oregon observed a notable reduction in their monthly figures of rear-end crashes after they broadened their distracted driving laws to ban even the holding of cell phones while driving. This is in comparison to states whose laws only prohibited texting.

These states even banned holding a phone while the driver stopped temporarily at a red signal. Ian Reagan, a senior research scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety spoke about the effectiveness of this law saying, “If you tell a driver that they are breaking the law just by holding the phone in their hand, a police officer who is trying to enforce that law doesn’t have to decide whether or not the driver is texting”.

The number of traffic fatalities in the US has increased since the start of the pandemic, and at present, Montana and Missouri rank fifth and twelfth respectively on the list of states with the highest fatalities from traffic accidents. However, with the increasing number of tragedies caused by distracted drivers in both states, it’s likely that the legislators will take a tougher stance to solve this issue in the near future.

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