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Texting While Driving In Missouri

In the last decade, Missouri has struggled with a steady rise in distracted driving due to mobile devices. Texting and driving specifically has contributed to hundreds of fatalities and thousands upon thousands of accidents. 

Mirroring dozens of other states, Missouri’s latest attempt to reduce distracted drivers is a new hands-free law, which makes it illegal to use any kind of electronic communication device while driving an automobile. Of course, with so many different kinds of electronic devices available today, you may be wondering whether or not this new law applies to yours.

To help you understand this new law, the following will guide you through the different definitions, restrictions, exceptions, and penalties it uses. 

The 2023 Siddens Bening Hands-Free Law 

Starting August 28, 2023, it’s now illegal for any Missouri driver to use a mobile device while driving their car. Revised Missouri Statute 304.822 specifies further that an electronic communication device is, “…a portable device that is used to initiate, receive, store, or view communication, information, images, or data electronically.” This includes: 

  • cell phones
  • pagers
  • computers, laptops, tablets, etc.
  • devices that transmit, retrieve, or show a video, movie, television show, or images
  • any substantially similar device that sends or receives communications, or stores and reviews information, such as videos or images

Certain attached or emergency devices, like radios or GPS transmitters, aren’t included on this list, as they don’t always require a driver to take their hands off the steering wheel. This is also why the law goes on to define acceptable, hands-free devices as, “…a feature or function, whether internally installed or externally attached or connected to an electronic communication device, that allows a person to use an electronic communication device without the use of either hand, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate the feature or function with a single touch or single swipe.”

Hands-Free Law Requirements

Missouri’s new driving ban prohibits drivers from performing any of the following behaviors with their mobile devices:

  • Physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body, an electronic communication device;
  • Write, send, or read any text-based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, email, or social media interaction on an electronic communication device.  This subdivision shall not apply to operators of a noncommercial motor vehicle using a voice-operated or hands-free feature or function that converts the message to be sent as a message in a written form, provided that the operator does not divert his or her attention from lawful operation of the vehicle;
  • Make any communication on an electronic communication device, including a phone call, voice message, or one-way voice communication; provided however, that this prohibition shall not apply to use of a voice-operated or hands-free feature or function;
  • Engage in any form of electronic data retrieval or electronic data communication on an electronic communication device;
  • Manually enter letters, numbers, or symbols into any website, search engine, or application on an electronic communication device;
  • Watch a video or movie on an electronic communication device, other than watching data related to the navigation of the vehicle; or
  • Record, post, send, or broadcast video, including a video conference, on an electronic communication device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to electronic devices used for the sole purpose of continually monitoring operator behavior by recording or broadcasting video within or outside the vehicle.

Hands-Free Law Exceptions

As comprehensive as this new law is, it also includes exceptions where using a mobile device while driving is allowed. For example, law enforcement officers and emergency vehicle drivers may use a mobile device while driving if it’s necessary to perform their duties. 

Perhaps the most relevant exception for most drivers is the use of hands-free or voice-operated features while driving. To accommodate instances where using a mobile device doesn’t distract or interfere with a driver’s focus, the new law also has an exception for, “Operators of commercial motor vehicles using a voice-operated or hands-free feature or function, as long as the operator remains seated and is restrained by a seat belt.

So, if you answer a call while driving but use your car’s speakerphone, you’d be using a hands-free feature and not in violation of Missouri’s new cell phone driving law. 

Other exceptions include:

  • Operators using an electronic communication device for the sole purpose of reporting an emergency situation and continuing communication with emergency personnel during the emergency situation
  • Operators using electronic communication devices while the vehicle is lawfully stopped or parked
  • The use of an electronic communication device to access or view a map for navigational purposes
  • The use of an electronic communication device to access or listen to an audio broadcast or digital audio recording

Distracted Driving Penalties

As with many other traffic violations, the penalties for texting and driving vary based on the driver’s record. 

First offense in the last two years $150
Second offense in the last two years $250
Third or higher offense in the last two years $500
Offense occurred in a school or construction zone
Caused $5000 or more in property damage Class D Misdemeanor
Seriously injured another person Class B Misdemeanor
Killed another person Class D Felony

How to Handle a Distracted Driving Ticket

If you violate Missouri’s new hands-free law and are ticketed by a police officer, you should immediately reach out to an experienced legal professional. An experienced traffic attorney will be able to review your case and explain the best course of action for you to take.

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