House committee reviews texting ban
Apr 02, 2012 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
JEFFERSON CITY -- To make roads safer, Missouri should ban motorists from texting while driving, several advocates told a House committee today.
"We all carry these things now," Missouri State Highway Patrol superintendent Col. Ron Replogle told lawmakers as he gestured toward his cellphone. "It has become a huge distraction in the automobile -- we're seeing it more and more."
The House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee did not vote on the bill. Similar legislation passed the House last year, but it died in the Senate.
"This is a law we need in Missouri," Replogle said.
The National Transportation Safety Board in December cited a Missouri wreck in its national call for states to ban nonemergency use of cellphones while driving.
An investigation found that a 19-year-old driver had sent or received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes leading up to the August 2010 deadly pile-up on Interstate 44 near Gray Summit. The wreck involved a pickup driven by the teen, an 18-wheeler and two school buses on their way to Six Flags St. Louis.
Two people died, including the pickup driver, and 38 were injured.
Despite hearing from Replogle and other advocates, some committee members were skeptical about the effectiveness of a ban.
"Texting while driving is a problem, but if there is no way to enforce it what is the real reason for passing a law?" said Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City.
Bill sponsor Don Wells, R-Cabool, said he thinks a law would serve as a preventative tool.
"A good portion of drivers -- if we say it's illegal they will stop," he said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 35 states and Washington, D.C., ban all drivers from texting behind the wheel -- nine of them and the nation's capital ban any hand-held use of cellphones.
People who spoke to the committee today included a trauma specialist, representative from the insurance industry and a cycling advocate.
Nevada High School student Elizabeth Prewitt detailed several safety statistics for lawmakers, urging them to expand the law.
"This is an issue I feel very strongly about," she told lawmakers.
Replogle said the state is now tracking whether texting is involved in wrecks. Until January, it fell under a catch-all distracted driving class, so it's unclear how persistent the problem is.
Vice Chair Nick Marshall, R-Platte City, said without texting-specific statistics, the state still would have seen a natural spike in wrecks with the rise in cellphone use if the problem is that bad.
"Obviously that would be a key indicator. We've seen texting just skyrocket. We should see an astronomical increase in accidents," he said.
Nearly 90 percent of drivers have cell phones -- a rate that is steady among age and income levels, according to a 2011 NHTSA survey.
The study, which was the first of its kind, found people underestimate the dangers of texting while driving.
"Most do not believe that their own driving is affected when they use these electronic devices, but they feel very unsafe when riding as a passenger with another driver who is talking on a handheld phone or texting," the report states.
The study also found most people support laws banning the use of cell phones while driving.
But the effects of such bans have been questioned -- by Missouri lawmakers and others.
A 2010 study from the Highway Loss Data Institute found the number of crashes did not decline after hand-held phone bans went into effect.
The study compared insurance claims for crash damage in New York, Connecticut, California and D.C. before and after such bans, but researchers found the rates were consistent with nearby jurisdictions that did not have bans.
Elizabeth Crisp covers Missouri politics.
___ (c)2012 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at
www.stltoday.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ Back To TMCnet.com's Homepage ]