JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – While much of the focus this legislative session regarding roads has involved funding for an infrastructure most people in the building recognize needs significant funding, the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee heard testimony on four bills, most of them designed to make Missouri roads safer.
However, the bills also raised concerns from some members of the committee on how to balance safety with government intrusion.
First, Sens. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, and Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis, introduced legislation that would expand the ban on texting while driving to all citizens, not just those under 21. Pearce’s bill came first and received the most attention, and only supporters of the legislation testified to make Missouri’s laws on texting while driving more strict.
Doug Horn, a personal injury and car accident attorney from Kansas City, added that as long as people drove with access to cell phones, distracted driving presented a dangerous problem for the safety of Missouri drivers.
“You can’t trust the other driver to do the right thing anymore,” he said.
Jamie Forlano, a Masters student from Fulton, said that just a month ago, she managed to escape unscathed after her car flipped while she was texting while driving. She testified that her mind was “everywhere else but the road” and said that being present in the moment, something nearly everyone who testified said is a near impossibility when people text and drive, would have prevented her accident.
Truckers, insurance agents, law enforcement and even ATT also testified in favor of the bill.
Schupp had a similar piece of legislation that hit many of the same points, but she also offered a bill that would change Missouri’s current law on seat belts to a primary seat belt law. Primary seat belt laws allow law enforcement to make traffic stops and write citations specifically and solely for people who fail to wear a seat belt. A secondary law means that a citation for those not wearing their seat belt can only accompany another traffic offense, like speeding.
The Missouri Highway Patrol also argues that one half of those killed in traffic fatalities would not have died had they worn seat belts. In the past year, 603 people in Missouri have died in traffic accidents.
Dr. Doug Schuerer, a trauma surgeon from St. Louis, testified that an “everyday” part of his job dealt with treating people who came in with wounds in car accidents. He said people who did not wear their seat belts usually entered the hospital in a worse state than those that did.
“I see the difference between those who come in belted and those who don’t,” he said. “I see a lot of bad injuries of people who are not belted.”
However, Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Washington, had significant problems with both pieces of legislation, wondering how such measures could be enforced, questioning the statistics on seat belt usage and the imposition of new laws on drivers. He did not want law to prompt police officers to pull over more Missourians, and instead stressed the need for education and awareness.
Horn argued education and awareness came from lawmakers.
“The best evidence we have is that primary seat belt laws make the difference,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe how important a law is to education and awareness. You have to set the ground work for all of this.”
Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, perhaps backed up Schatz’ argument in his own bill that would allow motorcyclists to ride motorcycles without the use of helmets or other protective headgear. He encouraged riders to wear helmets but added that the state did not have a place to mandate such behavior.
“I don’t believe George Washington sat in Valley Forge for eight years for the state to tell motorcycle riders to wear a helmet,” Holsman said.