What Missouri law says about distracted driving

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KSPR) -- Distracted driving is a deadly problem, and police say it's a growing epidemic.

When it comes to texting and driving, it's illegal in Missouri for anyone under the age of 21. Anyone older, it falls under distracted driving. The police officer has to see you doing it and causing a hazard on the roadways.

"The person that's reaching down grabbing their hamburger out of their bag, or putting a straw in their drink after they just left the drive-thru," said Sergeant John Lueckenhoff with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Lueckenhoff said he has seen it all in the years he's been a trooper. He said in Missouri, distracted driving is the number one cause of all traffic crashes.

"And that traffic crashes are the number one cause of teen fatalities. So when you combine those two things: distracted driving and teens driving, knowing that causes the most fatalities in teenagers, that's very alarming," Lueckenhoff said.

MoDOT has used its electronic sign on every major highway with messages to encourage people to put their phone down.

Dion Hallmark is a student at Missouri state and says she has been in a car with her friends who are texting and driving.

"I was telling her that she thought she was good at texting and driving. I was telling her that she was not because she was swerving in front of me. At the end of the day I think it comes down to making sure you are keeping yourself safe and the passengers," Hallmark said.

"You have to focus. You have to ensure that driving your car is the number one priority when you're behind the wheel. That text can wait. Opening that cheeseburger can wait, messing with the radio. All those things can happen when you're safely off the side of the road," Lueckenhoff said.

Sgt. Lueckenhoff said distracted driving often contributes to what he describes as the most terrible day in the life of a trooper.

"We're the ones that ultimately go to the homes of the survivors and let them know that someone is not coming home. There's nothing more tragic when you go knock on someone's door and let them know their loved one is not coming home because someone was distracted and crossed the center line and hit them head on," Lueckenhoff added.

Police say you need to keep both hands on the wheel focus on the road ahead. One other idea to help with this, police say, just put the phone in the back seat. They say there's no need to respond immediately, and only check it when the engine is off.

Police also say to watch your speed and buckle up.

197 people have died on the roads in Missouri so far this year.
And 65 percent of those people were not wearing their seat belts.