Distracted driving in Missouri accounts for over half of all driving fatalities, with an even greater majority happening within the boundaries of the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. Over the years, we have seen neighboring states enact laws to prevent the usage of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. In late 2023, Missouri officially joined the existing list of states that have hands free laws with the enactment of the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law.
Today, our personal injury and auto accident attorneys are sharing the details of this new hands free law and how it could impact future generations of drivers throughout our state.
What is the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law?
Since the increased use of cell phones in the early 2000s, 48 of the 50 U.S. states passed laws surrounding texting, calling and holding cell phones while driving. For over 20 years, the Missouri Legislature debated about prohibiting texting and driving until the passing of the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law in 2023.
The law prohibits dangerous distracted behaviors while driving, including:
- Texting and driving
- Reading or sending text messages
- Browsing the internet and driving
- Watching videos on social media or other browsers
- Holding an electronic device in your hand while driving
- Making or taking a phone call with the device in your hand
- Recording or broadcasting videos or movies
- Participating on video calls like Zoom or FaceTime while driving
This hands free law excludes communications made using hands-free or voice-operated phone calls, texts or navigation directions. For example, taking a phone call via Bluetooth without a device in your hand is permitted under the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law.
It is also important to note that this law does not impact your ability to use an electronic device while lawfully stopped or parked. There are also a few limited exceptions where drivers are able to use their cell phones while driving under this law. These instances include reporting an emergency, viewing a map for navigational purposes, and listening to a podcast.
What Type of Driving Penalty is the Hands Free Law?
The Siddens Bening Hands Free Law is a secondary offense, which means that law enforcement cannot pull a driver over for just using their cell phone. They are able to add this offense as an additional citation similarly to the seatbelt law while driving in Missouri.
For example, if you are driving and are taking a phone call in your hand while at the wheel, a police officer could not pull you over right away. However, if you are doing this same task and run through a stop sign, they can then pull you over and give you two citations — one for running the sign and a second for having the phone in your hand while driving.
What Fines Can I Receive for the New Law?
At this time, the law has a warning period until January 2025. This means that if a police officer pulls you over and catches you texting and driving, he or she is obligated to give you a warning. After the warning period, a violation of this law will be considered an infraction, which means there is typically a fine. A violation in a school zone or work zone with workers present, or multiple violations all carry additional fines. A distracted driver using an electronic device who causes a death, personal injury, or property damage can be charged with a felony or misdemeanor
The violation fines for the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law are as follows:
- The first violation within a 24 month period could result in a up to $100 fine.
- The second violation during that 24-month period results in a $250 fine.
- A third violation in the 24-month period results in a $500 fine.
- Drivers who are pulled over in a work or school zone face a $500 fine regardless of past offenses.
If a driver causes a crash while they are engaging in prohibited actions under this law, Missouri drivers may face criminal charges if it results in property damage, injuries or death.
Personal Injury Attorneys for Distracted Driving Accidents
Distracted driving accidents related to violations made under the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law can change someone’s life in an instant. Whether you were hit by someone who was texting and driving or ignoring their surroundings on the road, our personal injury attorneys are at your side during your case.
If you were hit by a distracted driver or someone who failed to follow the rules of the road, contact our team today to start building your car accident lawsuit.