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AAA explains Phones Down law

New Law Tells Missouri Drivers, Put Down The Cell Phone

Beginning Aug. 28, drivers in Missouri are no longer be able to hold their cell phone in their hand while behind the wheel under a new law signed by Gov. Mike Parson. The Siddens Bening Hands Free Law, which passed in Senate Bill 398, prohibits all drivers from manually typing, scrolling, or holding their cell phone while driving. The law does allow drivers to use hands-free cell phone features like talk-to-text, Bluetooth, or speaker functions to talk, send messages, and use navigation functions.

“It is going to take effort from all of us – no matter our driving experience – to change this deadly behavior of distracted driving,” said AAA Missouri Vice President of Public Affairs and Government Relations Angela Nelson. “We are calling on all Missourians to make a personal commitment to follow the new law and drive with their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.”

In Missouri, between 2012 and 2021, there have been 197,564 distracted driving-related crashes that killed 801 people, according to Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety data. The Siddens Bening Hands Free Law is named in memory of two Missourians who lost their lives in traffic crashes. Michael Bening, 46, of Raymore, Mo., was struck and killed by a suspected distracted driver on I-49 in Cass County in May 2021 while attempting to retrieve debris in the roadway. Michael was husband of Stephany Bening and father of two.

Randall Siddens, 34, of Columbia, Mo., died from injuries he sustained from being struck by a driver who was video chatting on a cell phone and speeding. Randall, a husband to Adrienne Siddens and father of three, was hit while he was collecting traffic cones after a triathlon race in Columbia in May 2019. Both Adrienne and Stephany serve as victim advocates to educate drivers on the dangers of distracted driving in hopes of preventing more tragic crashes from happening.

Senate Bill 398 “Siddens Bening Hands Free Law” Summary

Missouri is now the 28th state to require hands-free phone use for drivers of all ages behind the wheel and the 49th state to prohibit manually texting and driving.

The Siddens Bening Hands Free Law was originally part of Senate Bills 56/61, which was formed from two bills introduced by Sen. Jason Bean and Sen. Greg Razer.  Ultimately, the law was amended onto Senate Bill 398, which was passed by the Missouri General Assembly.  This law strengthens the state’s prior texting and driving law, one of the weakest in the country.

Under the new law, while the vehicle is in motion, drivers are prohibited from:

  • Physically holding or supporting a cell phone with any part of their body
  • Manually typing, writing, sending, or reading text-based messages
  • Recording, posting, sending or broadcasting video, including video calls and social media posts
  • Watching a video or movie

The new law does allow drivers to

  • Place or receive voice calls using voice-operated or hands-free functions that can be engaged/disengaged with a single touch or swipe
  • Talk on the phone, hands-free, using features like built-in phone speaker, in-car Bluetooth, or ear bud/headset
  • Send or receive text-based communication through voice-to-text features
  • Use cell phone GPS navigation and music or podcast functions
  • Use cell phone car mounts to assist with hands-free use

The bill contains specific exemptions for drivers communicating in emergency situations, emergency first responders and other emergency roadside workers, and for-hire drivers. The “Siddens Bening Hands Free Law” will also make it illegal for school bus drivers to use an electronic communication device while the school is in motion or while loading or unloading passengers.

Under the penalty provisions, a first-time violation will result in a fine up to $150. Fine amounts increase, up to $500, for repeat convictions within a two-year period. Additional penalties can occur, including misdemeanor or felony charges, if the distracted driver causes a crash that results in significant property damage, serious injury or death.

Penalty provisions will not be enacted until January 1, 2025, to allow adequate time for public education.

The passage of the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law is the successful culmination of a multi-year, collaborative effort from local, state, and national traffic safety-focused organizations, agencies, businesses, lawmakers, and advocates, including AAA Missouri, in the interest of addressing the growing public safety threat of cell phone-distracted driving.

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