New bill seeks to reduce 'distracted' driving accidents

The bill would make it illegal to use an electronic communication device when transporting passengers.

Cait Campbell / Graphic Designer

A new House bill seeks to restrict all “for-hire” drivers from using an electronic wireless communication device while transporting passengers, which would affect all bus drivers and passenger transportation drivers.

The Fair Fare Passenger Safety Act of 2012 is sponsored by Rep. Tim Meadows, D-District 101, and is aimed at reducing accidents and fatalities due to distracted driving.

“Safety isn’t just about driver fatigue,” Meadows said. “Texting and driving is dangerous, and when you’re hauling people it becomes much more important. Every year there are thousands of deaths nationally that are attributed to distracted driving.”

In 2009, there were roughly 5,500 fatalities nationwide and more than half a million injuries resulting from distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In Missouri, there were 21 fatalities and 558 injuries in 2010 in which cell phone distraction was partly to blame, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

The bill, HB 1334, states that any individual who is being paid to transport passengers is forbidden from using any handheld device for text messaging, making or receiving calls, and emailing.

“Anyone violating the provisions of the bill will be guilty of an infraction which will be deemed a moving violation for the purpose of assessing points against a person’s driver’s license,” according to the bill.

Currently in Missouri, it is not against traffic laws for an individual to use a cellphone while driving, and there is not currently any bills pending that would begin this restriction, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The only law Missourians already have to abide by is the “under 21” provision, which states that a novice driver, defined as anyone under the age of 21, may not use a cell phone while they operate a motor vehicle.

Some companies already restrict their drivers from using cell phones while driving, regardless of whether they have passengers or are alone in the vehicle.

Earlier this year, the United States Department of Transportation passed new regulations that make it a violation for any interstate commercial or bus driver to use a cellphone or push to talk phone during the operation of a commercial vehicle.

The U.S. DOT added severe fines for both drivers and their employers if they are ticketed for this violation, which run up to $2,750 for the driver, and up to $11,000 for the employer per violation.

“The government is already saying to the trucking industry that they’re not allowed to be on their cell phones,” Meadows said. “This should send a message to the rest of the public.”

Meadows said the restriction should be expanded to include everybody. Having the “under 21” restriction is a good start, but Missouri should really have the restriction on everybody to ensure highway safety gets better every year, he said.

“When you text and drive, you’re essentially operating a typewriter as you drive, that’s really what you’re doing,” Meadows said. “I know people don’t really like government telling them what to do, but let’s face it, when other people’s lives are in your hands, it becomes a necessity.”

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