Is it illegal to text and drive in Missouri? What if you get hurt by a distracted driver?
More than 1.6 million car crashes are caused by distracted drivers every year in the United States. Despite the well-known problem, Missouri has some of the most lenient distracted driving laws in the entire country.
Find out more about distracted driving laws in Missouri, including why the real cost of distracted driving has nothing to do with the citation you might receive.
How common is distracted driving in Missouri?
Accidents caused by distracted drivers have been on the rise in the United States.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 9% of all fatal crashes and 15% of all traffic crashes in 2019 were caused by distracted driving.
According to the survey:
- 26% of drivers reported texting or emailing while driving
- 20% reported checking social media while driving
- 19% took videos or photos while driving
- 17% shopped online while driving
Unfortunately, Missouri has largely followed the troubling national trend.
Accidents caused by distracted drivers have increased 30% in Missouri since 2014.
Let's take a look at some of the distractions that led to traffic accidents in Missouri in 2020:
|2020 Missouri car crashes involving distracted drivers|
|Distraction type||Fatal crashes||Injury crashes||Property damage only crashes||Total crashes|
|Source: Missouri State Highway Patrol Statistical Analysis Center|
Why is distracted driving so dangerous?
Distractions cause you to take your eyes off the road. Even if it's for a split second, taking your eyes off the road can have catastrophic consequences.
Driving distractions tend to fall into 1 of 3 categories:
- Cognitive distractions take your mind off the road (for example, talking on the phone or to a passenger).
- Visual distractions take your eyes off the road (for example, watching videos or adjusting the radio).
- Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel (for example, applying makeup or eating).
Research has shown that texting while driving is at least as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.
In a study conducted by the University of Utah, participants operated a driving simulator 4 times: once undistracted, once using a handheld cell phone, once using a hands-free cell phone, and once while intoxicated.
The study found that participants were as impaired when they drove and used a cell phone as they were when they drove while intoxicated.
Interestingly, there was no significant difference between participants using hands-free cell phones and participants using handheld cell phones. According to researchers, motorists who use hands-free devices look directly at road conditions but don't really register them because they're distracted by their conversation. This phenomenon is called "inattention blindness."
Missouri's distracted driving laws
Despite the high number of distracted driving accidents in the state, Missouri distracted driving laws are extremely lenient.
Missouri is 1 of only 2 states that do not have laws against texting and driving for ALL drivers (the other state is Montana).
Under Missouri Revised Statute 304.820, texting while driving is only prohibited if you're under the age of 22 or if you're a commercial driver.
For purposes of Missouri's distracted driving law, the term "texting" includes sending, reading, or writing a text message or any other electronic message (including an email).
"It's really difficult to enforce the law right now with the age limit," Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said. "Law enforcement officers have to first see drivers texting and then guess if they're under 22."
How does distracted driving impact a personal injury claim in Missouri?
Missouri has a fault-based insurance system, which means the party that caused the car accident is responsible for paying any damages that result.
To establish fault in most motor vehicle accidents, the plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant was negligent.
In Missouri, negligence is defined as "the failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to someone else on the road."
If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant was using a cell phone (or engaging in some other distracting activity) when the accident occurred, they can generally establish negligence. This is true even if the driver's use of a cell phone didn't violate any statutory laws.
Loretta, 62 years old, died as a result of the impact.
The passenger in Rachel's car told the police that Rachel had been looking at her phone and texting when the accident occurred.
The witness testimony gave the county prosecutor enough evidence to charge Rachel with involuntary manslaughter. Ultimately, Rachel pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received 2 days in jail and 2 months under house arrest. She'll also have to complete 300 hours of community service and 5 years of probation.
In addition to the criminal charge, Loretta's surviving family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit against Rachel.
Tips to avoid distracted driving
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has shared the following 10 tips for avoiding distracted driving:
- Turn it off and stow it. Turn your phone off or switch it to silent mode before you get in the car. Then, stow it away so that it's out of sight and reach.
- Spread the word. Record a message on your phone that tells callers you're driving and will get back to them when you're off the road, or enable this feature on your phone (if it is offered).
- Pull over. If you absolutely need to make a call or answer the phone, pull over to a safe area first.
- Use your passengers. Ask a passenger to make the call, answer the phone or respond to a text for you.
- Don't text. Never text and drive, surf the web or read your email while driving. It's dangerous even if it's not always against the law in Missouri.
- Know the law. Keep in mind that every state has different laws regarding distracted driving. Familiarize yourself with the laws in each state that you plan to drive through.
- Prepare. If using your phone for GPS or listening, get everything ready before you start to drive. If you prefer a map or written directions, review them in advance.
- Secure your pets. Unsecured pets can be a big distraction in the car.
- Mind the kids. Pull over to a safe place to address situations involving children in the car.
- Focus on driving. Multi-tasking behind the wheel is dangerous. Refrain from eating, drinking, reading, grooming, smoking, and any other activity that takes your mind and eyes off the road.
If you were injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver or if a loved one was killed in an accident caused by a distracted driver, you should consider meeting with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Most initial consultations are free.