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Texting while driving ban awaiting Parson's signature

Those used to holding a phone while driving will want to start practicing with two hands on the wheel.

The Siddens Bening Hands Free Law is available for Gov. Mike Parson’s signature after it passed the Missouri General Assembly. If he signs it into law, it will ban texting while driving for all drivers starting Jan. 1, 2024.

Parson has until July 14 to sign it.

The legislation forbids any driver from holding or using their body to support an electronic communication device. Current law only prohibits that activity for those 21 and under.

In Missouri, there have been 197,564 distracted driving related crashes, killing a total of 801 people between 2012 and 2021, according to Hands-Free Missouri.

“It is time we finally prioritize Missourians’ safety by preventing people from using their phones while driving,” Sen. Jason Bean, R-Holcomb, said at a Feb. 8 hearing for the legislation.

Bean said these types of hands-free laws are effective and referenced a similar law passed in Georgia.

“In Georgia, phone use while driving dropped 22% in one month while traffic deaths fell 7% in less than two years after a hands-free law went into effect,” he said.

If the bill is signed by Parson, Montana would be the only state not to have a law banning texting while driving for all ages.

The Siddens Bening Hands Free Law is named in memory of two Missourians who died in traffic crashes involving distracted driving.

Randall Siddens, from Columbia, died from injuries suffered from a crash with a driver who was video chatting on a cell phone and speeding. He was hit while collecting traffic cones after a Columbia triathlon race in May 2019, according to a news release from AAA Missouri.

Michael Bening, from Raymore, was struck and killed by an individual suspected of distracted driving in May 2021 on Interstate 49 in Cass County as he tried to retrieve debris in the roadway.

Sidden’s wife, Adrienne Siddens, and Bening’s wife, Stephany Bening, were among at least 20 witnesses who testified at the hearing, according to Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee minutes.

“I am here because Randall would have advocated for this,” Adrienne Siddens said at the hearing. ”I just don’t want this to happen to other people.”

“I want to see this law get passed so other families in Missouri don’t feel the same pain that we do,” Stephany Bening said at the hearing.

Jackson Hotaling, the community engagement director of Missourians for Responsible Transportation and part of Hands-Free Missouri, also testified at the hearing.

Hotaling said in an interview that he was grateful for victim advocates who put themselves in tough positions so other people might be spared from dangerous distracted driving in the

future. The hands-free law originated as two bills introduced by Bean and Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City.

Under the law, a driver cannot be stopped solely for violating the hands-free provision.

Penalties for violating the law include a fine of $150 for a first-time violation. Fine amounts increase up to $500 for repeated convictions within a two-year period.

Additional penalties can occur, such as misdemeanor or felony charges, if a distracted driver causes a crash that results in significant property damage, serious injury or death.

Penalty provisions for breaking the hands-free law will not be enacted until Jan. 1, 2025, to allow time for public education. Offending drivers will receive warnings throughout 2024.

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.