Proposed Senate bill targets texting Missourians no matter what their age
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Proposed Senate bill targets texting Missourians no matter what their age

Date: March 24, 2011
By: Andrew Weil
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SCS SB 11, HB 337

A Virginia Tech study finds drivers are 23 times more likely to get in a car accident when texting. Proposed legislation would add adult Missouri drivers to the list of 30 states who currently ban texting while driving.
RunTime:  4:25
OutCue:  SOC

Wrap: Jim Weible has seen the extreme consequences of texting while driving.

Actuality:  AWFEAT6.WAV
Run Time:  00:07
Description: "I was in shock. You know, you hear about that sort of thing on the radio or on TV but you never think it could happen to somebody you knew."

Earlier this year, a friend of the St. Louis county resident got distracted while behind the wheel.

Actuality:  AWFEAT1.WAV
Run Time:  00:02
Description: "He was driving, texting, and not wearing a seat belt."

Weible's friend, Bond Rho, had been driving alone through north St. Louis County.

Actuality:  AWFEAT4.WAV
Run Time:  00:05
Description: "From my understanding, he veered off the road and hit a pole and was thrown from the car and killed instantly."

The following morning, Weible found out about the accident from Rho's father.

Actuality:  AWFEAT5.WAV
Run Time:  00:10
Description: "It actually woke me up. I was sleeping in and I got a phone call at 10 in the morning and Grand Master Rho, his father, told me his son was killed in a car accident."

Weible says Rho's family is still trying to recover from the loss.

Actuality:  AWFEAT9.WAV
Run Time:  00:11
Description: "The fact that something like this could happen to a guy that young, a guy I had known that long, you know, it made the statistics you see on the news a lot more real."

According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute drivers take their eyes off the road for 5 seconds on average to send a text.

Actuality:  DRVING.WAV
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Description: "NATS-Car Driving"

Those 5 seconds, driving 55 miles per hour, means traveling beyond the length of a football field without looking at the road.

Although, some Legislators, including Republican Senator Chuck Purgason says people need to make these decisions on their own.

Actuality:  PURG5.WAV
Run Time:  00:08
Description: "What do we do next? You know, what do we do, do we ban women from looking at themselves in the rear view mirror when they're driving down the road."

Jefferson County Democratic Senator Ryan McKenna says he disagrees with Purgason and sponsors a bill to expand Missouri's ban to include all drivers.

Actuality:  MCKENNA4.WAV
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Description: "My example is when I first started driving, after I passed the driving test, somebody gave me a miniature typewriter and told me to start typing on it while I drive the car, you would have thought I was crazy."

McKenna says his bill is currently stuck in the state's legislative process.

Actuality:  MCKENNA3.WAV
Run Time:  00:06
Description: "The issue more is that Senator Purgason doesn't like the thought of texting and driving being against the law."

Purgason says Legislators won't be able to fix the problem until drivers begin to take responsibility.

Actuality:  PURG7.WAV
Run Time:  00:10
Description: "You know, where does it stop when we come to passing laws? It's another instance of we'll walk away and think we did something, and next year we'll have to come back and do something else."

There is currently a similar proposal in the House.

Since 2009, it has been illegal in Missouri for anyone under the age of 21 to be texting while driving.

Captain Tim Hull is the spokesperson for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

He says the age-restriction makes it difficult for officers to enforce.

Actuality:  HULL7.WAV
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Description: "18-year-olds that look like they're 25, and you got some 25-year-olds that look like they're 18, so again, it takes some perseverance and investigation on the part of the officer that's enforcing those laws out there."

However, Hull says drivers who text typically make visible mistakes that get them pulled over by officers, such as veering into another lane of traffic or driving too slow.

He says in 2010, 20 Missourians were killed as a result of cell-phone distractions.

However, only 12 of those who died were the drivers.

Actuality:  HULL3.WAV
Run Time:  00:06
Description: "So it's not just the driver that's at danger when you're not paying the full-time attention to the job of driving."

From August 2009 to December 2010 the Highway Patrol issued more than 80 tickets for violating the texting while driving ban.

In an attempt to bring public awareness to the issue, they partnered with AT&T on a documentary featuring stories from officers and loved ones affected by texting while driving.

In January, the US Transportation Department announced a federal ban on texting for all commercial truck and bus drivers.

But, a spokesperson from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there won't be a nationwide ban for private citizens because it has to be made through state law. 

Under Missouri's current law, Bond Rho's texting was illegal, but if it was one year later, he would have been 22 and legally allowed to text and drive.

Any future changes to Missouri's law will have little affect on Jim Weible's routine.
Actuality:  AWFEAT7.WAV
Run Time:  00:06
Description: "I made a point of never trying to text while driving, but this has forced me to even stop using the phone at all when I'm driving."

According to a study by the University of Utah, using a cell phone while driving, even if it's hands-free, delays a person's reactions as much as if they had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent.

Missouri currently has no restrictions on making cell phone calls while driving.

Reporting from the State Capitol, I'm Andrew Weil.