A law that went into effect in August 2023 makes it illegal to text or even hold a cell phone while driving in the state of Missouri.
While Missouri’s old cell phone law affected only drivers under 21, the current law applies to all drivers, regardless of age.
What’s in the Missouri Cell Phone Law
The Siddens Bening Hands Free Law was drafted in response to a report by the Missouri Coalition of Road Safety showing the public safety risk drivers pose when they are distracted by electronic devices.
Previously, Missouri law prohibited young drivers from using cell phones, but the restrictions were lifted once the driver turned 21. The current cell phone law applies to all drivers, regardless of age.
The law states that “no operator shall (1) Physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body, an electronic communication device; (2) Write, send, or read any text-based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, email, or social media interaction on an electronic communication device; (3) Make any communication on an electronic communication device, including a phone call, voice message, or one-way voice communication; provided however, that this prohibition shall not apply to use of a voice-operated or hands-free feature or function; (4) Engage in any form of electronic data retrieval or electronic data communication on an electronic communication device; (5) Manually enter letters, numbers, or symbols into any website, search engine, or application on an electronic communication device; (6) Watch a video or movie on an electronic communication device, other than watching data related to the navigation of the vehicle; or (7) Record, post, send, or broadcast video, including a video conference, on an electronic communication device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to electronic devices used for the sole purpose of continually monitoring operator behavior by recording or broadcasting video within or outside the vehicle.”
You can’t get around Missouri’s texting and driving law by balancing your cell phone on your knee or laying it in your lap. The law prohibits drivers from physically holding or supporting a phone with any part of their body.
Even with a hands-free setup, drivers are forbidden from reading or watching video on their phones. They also may not record, post, or send video while driving. This includes participating in video calls.
Missouri makes exceptions to some parts of the law for drivers using electronic devices in the course of their job, such as police officers and tow truck drivers.
Why Did Missouri Ban Texting and Driving?
When you’re driving, reading and sending text messages puts everyone in and around your vehicle at risk.
At 55 miles per hour, looking at your phone for just five seconds – barely enough time to see who texted – is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
Over the course of a decade, distracted drivers in Missouri caused more than 200,000 crashes, killing at least 800 people.
As people increasingly depend on their phones for everything from messaging to maps to music, the devices have become a prime distraction. More than 2,000 crashes in 2021 alone involved a driver using a cell phone.
We recently represented clients that were horribly injured when their car became disabled in the fast lane of a highway. Traffic was light and the accident reconstruction report indicated that their disabled car was visible to oncoming cars from over a quarter mile away.
There were no hills, curves or other visual obstructions. Their car was hit several minutes later by a driver whose black box data showed that they were going over 80mph at impact and never hit the brakes.
The driver was not intoxicated which leaves only one explanation – cell phones.
What You Can and Can’t Do Under the Law
Can I hold my phone in my lap as long as I’m not using it?
No. As long as you’re driving, you cannot physically support the phone with any part of your body.
Can I talk on the phone while driving in Missouri?
Yes, but there are restrictions. It must be an audio call only (no video) and you must use a hands-free setup.
Can I send messages – like texts, emails, or instant messages?
You can dictate a message using voice-to-text, but you may not read messages, type messages, or do anything else that requires you to take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel.
Can I use voice-to-text while driving?
Yes, you may use voice-activated messaging features that don’t require you to look at or touch the phone.
Can I livestream during my drive?
No. You may not record any video while driving in Missouri.
That includes livestreaming; recording video to share, store, or post later; and participating in video calls.
Can I text while I’m stopped at a red light?
Legally, yes. Missouri law allows drivers to use their phones while the vehicle is legally stopped or parked.
That said, research shows using an electronic device can result in an “attention hangover.” For about half a minute after you’ve stopped using the device, you can still experience attention blindness and slowed reaction time.
It’s safer to wait until you’re parked to respond to that message.
Can I program my GPS while driving?
Yes – only if you are giving it voice instructions. Missouri law prohibits drivers from typing on a screen while driving.
Programming a GPS may be an even worse idea than texting. Research shows typing on a GPS is the No. 1 culprit in distracted driving crashes.
Penalties for Texting and Driving in Missouri
Under Missouri’s cell phone law, you can be pulled over for using a phone while driving.
Police began enforcing the law in August 2023, but violators are only getting warnings for now. Police will start issuing tickets for cell phone violations in January 2025.
How Much is a Ticket for Using a Cell Phone While Driving?
Penalties range from $150 to $500. Commercial drivers cited for violating the law may be disqualified from holding a commercial driver’s license.
- If it’s your first cell phone citation in the past 2 years: $150
- If it’s your second citation in 2 years: $250
- If you have been cited for using your cell phone two or more times in the past 2 years: $500
- If you are cited for using your cell phone while driving in a work zone or school zone: $500
Penalties escalate if you cause an accident while distracted by your cell phone.
If you violate the cell phone law and cause more than $5,000 in property damage, you could be charged with a Class D misdemeanor.
If the accident results in physical injury to a person, you could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. If it results in a person’s death, you could be charged with a Class D felony.
Stay Safe; Put Your Phone Away
Cell phone laws may seem inconvenient, but they’re intended to make the roads safer for everyone. To reduce temptation, silence your phone and put it away in your purse, glove box, or console while you drive.
Most smartphones are equipped with a driving notification in their settings. When it’s switched on, notification sounds are silenced and anyone who tries to call or text you will receive an automated message letting them know you’re driving.
When you absolutely must send that message, make that call, or program that route, pull over in a designated parking area, shift the car into park, and do it safely.