COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
A new law going into effect Monday makes it illegal for Missourians to hold their phones while driving, but there are some caveats when it comes to enforcing the law.
Several laws go into effect Aug. 28, including the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law. The law is part of Senate Bill 398, which also says the Department of Revenue will collect sales tax on cars following the development of a modernized titling and registration system.
The hands-free law prohibits any use of an electronic device, like a cellphone, while behind the wheel aside from hands-free devices like Bluetooth or Apple Play. It's not just texting a driving, it's also making voice calls, video calls or scrolling through social media.
"They're not the end all be all to changing people's dangerous driving habits. It's going to take the law, which we have. It's going to take enforcement. And then of course, it's going to take education as well," said Nick Chabarria with Missouri AAA.
Although the hands-free law goes into effect Monday, there is a grace period where law enforcement can only give warnings rather than tickets. Officers can start enforcing penalties Jan. 1, 2025. After that date, the law will be secondary enforcement, meaning you cannot get pulled over just for being on your phone, but if you're pulled over for something else an officer can ticket you for using your phone.
Jefferson City Police tell ABC 17 that once the law starts being enforce, people found violating the law will receive a traffic ticket and then a court summons. The county prosecutor is the one who will decide the penalty.
If you're caught violating the hands-free law, the lowest penalty is a fine of up to $150. If you have prior convictions, the fine rises to between $250 and $500, depending on the number of convictions. The penalties are greater for work zones and school zones.
The punishments also rise if the use of a phone while driving leads to property damage, injury or death. If more than $5,000 in property damage is caused, the driver will be charged with a class D misdemeanor. If serious physical injury is caused, the charges go up to a class B misdemeanor. If someone dies as a result of a violation of the hands-free law, the driver will be charged with a class D felony.
Someone driving a commercial vehicle caught violating the hands-free law is considered a serious traffic violation and could lose their commercial driver's license.
The law is named after Randall Siddens and Micheal Bening, two Missouri men who lost their lives in distracted driving crashes. Adrienne Siddens, Randall's widow, sat down with ABC 17 News to share her story and excitement about the law passing.
"My kids are kind of young still, they don't really know the full story yet," Adrienne said. "They know a little bit, obviously, but they it'll be something that that'll be easy for them to point to. You know, and that's something my dad helped create."
Randall died in 2019 while he was helping clean up after a triathlon in Columbia. He was wearing a bright colored traffic jacket, has a police car with flashing lights guarding him and other volunteers and was picking up traffic cones.
"She was video chatting coming up to a red light stop traffic didn't see what was happening in front of her and swerved around the police officer in and then hit Randall," Adrienne said.
Adrienne has been advocating for a hands free law ever since. Lawmakers naming the bill after her husband was a surprise to her and Bening's widow.