Transportation leaders in the House and Senate square off on opposite sides of a cell phone ban in vehicles. Senator Bill Stouffer (R-Napton) heads the Transportation Committee and has seen several proposals to ban texting or talking while driving come through. In response to the latest urging of the National Transportation Safety Board for all states to pass a blanket ban, he says you can’t legislate common sense, and he says Missouri can and will govern its own.
“And we need drivers to be drivers, is what it amounts, maybe we need to strengthen the laws on inattention but I’m not sure that talking on a cell phone or hands free device is any more dangerous than changing the radio station or dropping a CD on the floor or whatever,” Stouffer says, pointing to the myriad of things people do when they’re driving, such as eating, talking to passengers, reading maps, looking through paperwork. “there’s too many distractions in our vehicles and its up to drivers to hand that and to take responsibility for what they’re doing.”
He says in 2009, the Missouri General Assembly passed a bill that bans texting while driving for people 21 and younger, which is now law.
“We need to do away with the mentality that states need supervision from the federal government to carry out their day-to-day functions,” he says. “It is time to let folks use their better judgment and let common sense prevail. The more we transfer common sense to the government and away from people — when it comes to safety, parenting and our daily lives — the fewer freedoms we will all enjoy.”
However, Rep. Charlie Denison (R-Springfield) is chairman of the House Transportation Committee. He says he thinks its a good idea and will support legislation that bans all drivers from using electronic devices.
“I think it’s good,” Denison says. “I think it’s something that needs to be, and the studies I’ve seen, there’s been so many accidents that are caused by texting or just using hand held phones while you’re driving. I think it would really make a difference in education and promoting the fact that it is illegal and it would be subject to a fine.”
He admits enforcement would present a challenge, which is echoed by the Highway Patrol, which reports issuing only about 100 citations, statewide, over the past year for drivers under 21 texting while driving.
Rep. Don Wells has said he plans to propose legislation on such a ban for all ages, but Stouffer thinks a bill would have a hard time passing both chambers and becoming law.