JEFFERSON CITY - A proposal to ban adults from texting while driving ran into skepticism from House committee members Tuesday.
"This makes about as much sense to me as outlawing putting on make-up on while driving, reading the newspaper while driving, shaving before you go to work...How far do we wanna go with this?" asked House Public Safety Committee member Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington.
The bill before the committee would extend to adults a current ban on texting passed last year that covers only those under the age of 22.
The bill's sponsor -- Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles --- told the committee that "inattentiveness is a major cause of accidents and deaths on our Missouri highways." He cited a recent fatal accident in his own Miller County that he said was attributed to texting and driving
Besides Dieckhaus, skepticism to Schad's bill was voiced by a former police chief and long-time law enforcement official -- Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart.
Roorda voiced concerns about the "subjective standard of law enforcement" to be able to look at a driver and determine whether they were texting, or merely using their cell phone for an allowable function, such as a GPS feature. Roorda felt that unless law enforcement officials were given the power to search phone logs, little could be done to successfully enforce the bill.
"I'm afraid it's more of a public education campaign," Roorda said. "And once that public awareness peaks it starts to decline very quickly if there's no enforcement that goes with it."
Roorda also said he had heard "that the deaf community has taken some umbrage with the idea of regulating texting while driving."
According to Roorda, the deaf community feels that neglecting to regulate traditional phone calls but still solely outlawing texting, "sort of singles them out, because texting while driving is the only form of communication that they can use." Roorda said he was unaware of this issue until Monday, one he called "sort of a vexing idea."
Missouri State Highway Patrol Chief of Staff Captain Tim McDonald testified for information purposes, stressing that the Highway Patrol promoted safety but had not taken a position on the bill. McDonald said that "last year, there were over 155,000 traffic crashes reported in Missouri," and that "of those, 40,700 can be directly attributed to inattention." McDonald broke that number down further, to highlight the 17,000 incidents involving the use of a cell phone.
Spokespersons for major insurance interests testified in support of the proposal.
Brent Butler, lobbyist for the Missouri Insurance Coalition, called texting while driving issues both an "epidemic" and "an accident waiting to happen."
Richard Brownlee, a State Farm Insurance lobbyist, equated the risks of texting and driving to driving while intoxicated.
Other supporters included the Missouri Trucking Association, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri State Troopers Association, and AT&T.
Although committee members raised questions, no one testified against the bill.
The committee took no immediate action on the measure.