Missouri law currently prohibits drivers under the age of 22 “from using electronic wireless communication devices to send text messages or electronic messages while driving.”

Missouri is one of three states in the U.S. that doesn’t fully ban texting and driving, but a bill heard by the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee on Thursday morning would change that.

"This bill (will) make Missouri one of the safe states to drive in along with 47 other states," the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, said, calling it "a common sense piece of legislation.”

Missouri law currently prohibits drivers under the age of 22 “from using electronic wireless communication devices to send text messages or electronic messages while driving.” Wallingford’s bill would apply the law to all Missourians, regardless of age. Violators would face a fine of $50; that fine would be doubled for those caught texting and driving in a school or work zone with workers present.

Noncommercial drivers could still use a hands-free device under the proposal.

The bill would, however, exempt “emergency vehicles and other motor vehicles responding in a commercial capacity to another vehicle's request for roadside assistance from the prohibition against operators using electronic wireless communication devices.”

Over a dozen representatives from transportation, insurance and medical sectors testified in support of the bill, including Nicole Hood, theMissouri Department of Transportation's highway safety and traffic engineer.

“Since 2014, our cell phone-related crashes have increased by 35 percent, and (Missouri) had 2,600 crashes in 2017 alone that involved the use of a cell phone,” Hood said, citing a report from the Missouri Department of Transportation. Data available on the department’s website reports that texting while driving takes motorists’ eyes off the road for around five seconds and increases chances of a wreck by 50 percent.

Echoing the spirit of Wallingford’s bill, Hood added that distracted driving is not an issue limited to young people, telling the committee that “from 2015-17, approximately 70 percent of people who were involved in a crash were 22 years of age or older.”

Although no outside parties showed up in opposition of the bill, state Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, suggested the need for broader language to include other forms of distracted driving, such as eating or applying makeup, not just texting.

“Distracted driving is distracted driving,” Romine said. “To enumerate each individual activity, I’m concerned about that.”

Lawmakers have introduced similar bills during previous legislative sessions, but none of them have passed into law. Some lawmakers are hoping this session will go differently. In the Missouri House of Representatives, state Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, has introduced House Bill 211, nearly identical to Wallingford’s Senate piece. Razer’s bill has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.