Starting today, drivers age 21 and under will be fined $200 if caught text messaging while driving.
The new law is part of the Omnibus Crime Bill signed into law by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on July 9. Some laws became effective immediately while others become effective today.
The new law, prohibiting any person age 21 or younger from operating a motor vehicle on Missouri roadways while sending, reading or writing a text or electronic message, puts Missouri in the company of 22 other states that already have laws pertaining to cell phone usage while driving.
According to Lieutenant Terry Moore with the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Troop D, enforcement of this law could be problematic since the law does not prohibit talking on a cellular phone and the new texting law only applies to persons age 21 and under.
|But if the law encourages young drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands off their phone it's a worthwhile effort, according to Moore.|
"Texting, GPS devices and MP3 players have been a contributing cause of fatalities from accidents," said Moore. "We are taking a small step toward a larger journey to do something about electronic devices, and we hope this is a move in the right direction."
Since the law is directed at a particular age group, Moore said it could be difficult to determine who was using the cellular device if there is more than one person in the vehicle.
"We are not looking for anymore governmental intrusion into people's lives," said Moore. "When it is in the best interest of people to have these laws, it is also in the best interest of public safety."
From an enforcement perspective, Moore said justification is needed for an officer to stop a vehicle, such as reasonable suspicion or seeing someone utilizing an electronic device.
"We have authority to make further inquiries to determine if a violation had occurred," said Moore.
Since the new law on texting is not a criminal offense only an infraction, each instance will stand on its own as a violation of the law and will result in a $200 fine on each occasion.
According to a news release from the Missouri Department of Transportation, legislation encouraging these types of laws that ban texting have been encouraged at the federal level with proposals saying states who didn't ban texting could risk losing federal highway funding.
While Missouri is the 23rd state to ban texting while driving, it is one of only nine states to single out a particular age group.