Hands-free cell phone law for all ages starts for Missouri drivers on August 28

Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 6:34 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Several new Missouri laws signed by Governor Mike Parson will go into effect on August 28th including one that affects every driver in the state.

It’s the hands-free/no texting law to try and curtail cell phone use behind the wheel.

You see it everywhere and have probably done it yourself at some point. Many of us have missed a chance to make it through a light because a driver with their heads buried in a cell phone didn’t move with the traffic flow or even worse we’ve witnessed a distracted driver cause an accident.

But on August 28th Missouri will become the 49th state to prohibit manually texting-and-driving and the 28th state to require hands-free use for drivers of all ages, a change to a current law that only applied to those under the age of 21.

“That really sent the wrong message to drivers that once you reach a certain age you can safely multitask behind the wheel,” said Nick Chabarria, a spokesman with AAA that’s been heavily involved in supporting the law. “But we know that distracted driving and drunk driving have a lot in common. Nearly 200,000 crashes have occurred in Missouri and more than 800 people killed over the last decade due to distracted driving.”

So what can and can’t you do under the new Missouri law?

As a driver you cannot:

-- Physically hold or support a cell phone with any part of their body

-- Manually type write, send or read text-based messages

-- Record, post, send or broadcast video (including video calls or social media posts)

-- Watch a video or movie

As a driver you can:

-- Send or receive text-based communication through voice-to-text features

-- Use cell phone GPS navigation and music or podcast functions

-- Talk on the phone using hands-free features like built-in phone speaker, in-car Bluetooth or ear bud/headset

-- Place or receive voice calls using voice-operated or hands-free functions that can be engaged/disengaged with a single touch or swipe

“The easiest way to put it is if you’re holding your phone in your hand up to your ear or holding it out in front of you, that is illegal under the new law,” Chabarria explained. “You can still use your phone mounts and you can still use hands-free technology.”

Just like Missouri’s seat belt laws though, cell phone usage is a secondary offense, meaning you have to be pulled over for something else initially before you can be ticketed for a phone violation. Missouri, Nebraska and Alabama are the only three states where it is not a primary violation.

“It was an amendment that was added and one that was really needed to get this law across the finish line,” Chabarria pointed out. “Ultimately we’d eventually like to see primary enforcement where you could be stopped for having your phone in your hand.”

Fines start at $150 and increase to $500 for repeat offenders (within a two year period). But those fines won’t be implemented until January, 2025.

“That gives time for law enforcement to educate the public on the new law,” Chabarria said. “The intent of the law was never to catch people in-the-act or fine them. The intent of the law is to really change driver behavior here in Missouri.”

And that behavior change has been working in other states.

“In Georgia, for example, in 2018 they passed a similar hands-free law and in the first 18 months they saw roadway fatalities drop seven percent,” Chabarria said. “That is significant but also in the first month of the new law phone usage behind the wheel dropped 22 percent.”

Among other laws going into effect on August 28th:

--Postpartum Medicaid change where lower-income new mothers will get a full year of Medicaid healthcare

-- Pending approval by the federal government, workers who are on welfare who receive raises no longer will be cut off from food stamps and welfare benefits. The new law would allow reduced aid proportionate to workers’ raises. The idea is that taking away benefits punishes workers for getting promoted, which might encourage people to stay in lower-earning jobs

-- Regarding senior-age Missouri residents Social Security benefits will no longer be taxed by the state (Missouri was one of only 11 states with a separate state tax on Social Security) and counties are now allowed to approve property tax breaks for people age 65-and-older

However, the specifics of that property tax law are unclear and causing confusion so you may not see that soon.

“I don’t sense that there’s any hesitancy on the part of my colleagues here in Greene County to implement this,” said Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon. “But the big question for us is, what are we implementing and how are we supposed to do it?”

Stay tuned. The answers may be coming from the courts.

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com