Columbia bill makes texting and driving an offense for all ages

The City of Columbia, Missouri, is considering passing a bill that will ban texting while driving for drivers of all ages.

Currently, there is a statewide rule that prohibits texting for drivers 21 years old and younger. If passed, the ordinance would make Columbia one of the few Missouri towns that bans texting for all ages.

However, the legal grounds to pass such a regulation is questionable. 

Supporters of the bill argue that they will have different approach for violators 22 years and older. Columbia police will be directed to issue tickets to the older adults only after another primary traffic offense has happened. The current state law for 21 and younger makes driving while texting a primary offense that police can pull the younger drivers over. The law prohibits the use of a cell phone to “send, read or write a text message or electronic message.” The older drivers must first commit another violation before they get a citation.

The law, however, is different for commercial motor vehicle driving. Those drivers are prohibited to use hand-held cell phones to text or make a call.

The consensus among the legal community is unclear whether municipals have the power to pass more restrictive laws on texting. In St. Louis County, the City of Kirkwood has adopted a more stringent ordinance but most other cities have not because attorneys disagree about the issue.

The Columbia ban was a recommendation from a 2016 Mayor’s Task Force on Pedestrian Safety.

Distracted driving, which includes texting while driving, is a common reason for deadly or injurious traffic crashes in Columbia.

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, since the start of 2017, there were 125 vehicle crashes in related to distracted driving, a category that includes driving and texting.  Of those, 24 of the crashes involved injuries, with five injuries disabling.

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