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Folklore or myths about driving on Missouri roadways

Growing up was hard enough; however, as one got older it came to light that not everything you were told by your parents or grandparents turned out to be true.

For example, many times I wondered how I could sit so close to the television without going blind. It was a miracle to me that after swallowing countless watermelon seeds, I, for some unknown reason, did not grow one in my stomach.

Well, years later, and after being a state trooper for many years, I still have to smile and chuckle to myself when questions posed to me reveal folklore or myths about driving on Missouri roadways.

There isn’t a year that goes by where Missouri drivers, regardless of age, ask the same peculiar questions. The other day, while speaking to a group of college kids I was asked if it was illegal for a driver to drive without a shirt on. I politely smiled and said, “No. However, a female would probably be arrested!”

After several more serious questions, I wondered to myself how many myths are floating around concerning driving in this state. So, I sit here hoping to convey to the reader several answers to questions they may have.

The more frequent questions are: Is it illegal to drive barefoot in Missouri? Is it illegal to drive with head phones on? How old must a child have to be to ride in the front seat of a car? Is it legal to make a left turn on a steady red signal? What is the actual distance one car can follow another? Why can’t I ride my all terrain vehicle (ATV) on a gravel road? What is the minimum bumper height of a passenger vehicle? Of course, there are countless questions, and I could probably write a book. But, for the sake of this article, I need to stop at some point. Thus, I’ll try to answer the more frequent questions to the best of my abilities.

First, contrary to popular belief and to most grandparents, it is not illegal to drive barefoot in Missouri! In fact, at times, it may even be safer to drive without shoes. For example, female drivers who wear the two-inch heels, pumps, wedges, or even the thin flip-flops, may be safer depending on the abilities of the driver, to drive barefoot, so they can gage the pedals better. Some of the thin flip-flops will bend up under the pedal, or if it gets wet, your foot may slide off or twist on the sandal causing a hazardous situation.

In Missouri, it is not illegal to drive while wearing headphones! Does the Highway Patrol condone this practice? No. But, it is not illegal. The example I give to most is this: A deaf or hearing impaired person can drive.  If you are wondering, all emergency vehicles in the state of Missouri must have their lights and siren activated when on an emergency call. If you cannot see the light, you will be more likely to hear the siren, and if you can’t hear the siren more than likely, you will see the lights.  However, you cannot drive if you are blind!

How old must a child be to ride in the front seat of a car? This question is asked quite often and the answer is: A child can ride in the front seat of a car at any age! Yes, at any age–as long as the parents or driver adheres to the child restraint laws of this state. The child restraint law is this: A child under the age of four or less than 40 pounds must be in an approved car seat. A child four, but less than eight, must be in an approved booster seat, except when they are over 80 pounds and taller than 4’9″. Then they can be in a seat belt. Every child who is between eight and 16 years of age must be in a seat belt regardless of where they are sitting in the vehicle. Now, is it as safe as having the child sit in the back seat? Of course not, especially with the air bag issues. We recommend that children ride in the back seat until they reach the age of 13.  However, it is not illegal.

Can a driver make a left turn on a solid, red signal? The quick answer is, “No, you cannot make a left turn on a solid red signal.” However, there may be times where the signal is malfunctioning, and under these circumstances, after a full stop, one may proceed through the signal under extreme caution. If stopped for this reason, however, you might have a bit of explaining to do!

What is the actual distance can one car follow another? Most drivers are shocked and have the opened mouth, dead fish look when I tell them there is no actual or measured distance one car can follow another.  Most drivers will then respond with, “one car length for every 10 miles per hour while traveling on the highway.”  Again, contrary to popular belief, that is actually not a safe distance either. The revised statutes of Missouri states, “A car, motorcycle or truck registered under 18,000 pounds shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonably safe and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon and the condition of the roadway.”

The myth about distances may possibly come into play regarding trucks over 18,000 pounds and buses. In this case, the statutes state, “The driver of any truck or bus, when traveling upon a public highway of this state outside of a business or residential district, shall not follow within 300 feet of another such vehicle except when passing.”  We recommend following at least 3 seconds back during normal driving conditions.

Why can’t I ride my ATV on a gravel road? The answer to this question is quite simple. However, most Missouri residents do not actually read the laws of this state and if they did they could miss this one. It all comes down to the definition of a highway. Most people think of a highway as a paved road, street, or interstate. In fact, the definition is this (as defined by statute), “Any public thoroughfare for vehicles, including state roads, county roads, and public streets, avenues, boulevards, parkways, or alleys in any municipality.” Given this definition, according to Section 304.103 RSMo., ATVs cannot be driven on any highway … period. As in most situations there are exemptions.  In the case of ATVs they can be ridden on the highways for government or agricultural use only.

What is the minimum bumper height for cars in Missouri?  Well, this one is easy. The simple truth is that there is no minimum bumper height. However, there is a maximum, which for most cars is 22 inches. So, if you have a low riding vehicle that’s not touching the ground, it’s OK.  But, here is the catch: There is a minimum license plate height. So, in order to be legal, your license plate has to be at least eight inches off the ground and no higher than 48 inches, which keeps most vehicle registered in this state from having low riding bumpers.

I hope I have busted some myths associated with driving within the state of Missouri.  By the way, do not cross your eyes for too long … they may stay that way!

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