Texting Is Finally Illegal in Missouri, But Touchscreens Still Pose Risks

Texting Is Finally Illegal in Missouri, But Touchscreens Still Pose RisksMissouri is taking a big step toward safer roads with new laws making texting and other interactions with a cell phone illegal while driving. Texting and other forms of communication have been a huge distraction for drivers ever since mobile phones became popular. Over the years, states have not only been making texting and driving illegal, but all types of hands-on interactions with your phone illegal as well.

Distracted driving remains a significant concern in Missouri, with a notable impact on road safety. From 2012 to 2021, Missouri witnessed almost 200,000 crashes attributable to distracted driving, resulting in a tragic toll of at least 801 fatalities. Recent data from the National Safety Council reveals that the actual number of distracted driving incidents, particularly those involving cell phone use, may be considerably higher than officially reported.

Nicole Hood, MoDOT State Highway Safety and Traffic Engineer, expressed deep concern over this disturbing trend of distracted driving crashes. Tragically, many of these incidents result in fatalities, often affecting individuals other than the distracted driver. Recognizing the urgency of addressing this issue, the General Assembly and Governor Parson have taken a significant step by introducing a hands-free law in Missouri. This legislation is expected to foster a safer driving culture by curbing phone use while driving and, ultimately, saving lives on the road.

What is the new law?

Governor Mike Parson has officially signed the Siddens Bening Hands-Free Law, which went into effect August 28th. This law introduces a comprehensive ban on the use of handheld electronic communication devices while driving. Drivers are forbidden from physically holding or supporting a cell phone with any part of their body. Additionally, actions such as manually typing, writing, sending, or reading text-based messages, recording, posting, sending, or broadcasting video (including video calls and social media posts), and watching a video or movie are all prohibited under this new law.

What other technological distractions do cars pose?

While texting and other sorts of hands-on distractions with your phone are being made illegal, there are other features in vehicles these days that provide different ways in which someone can be distracted while driving.

Infotainment systems in cars have revolutionized the driving experience, offering a wide range of features that provide entertainment, convenience, and connectivity during long drives. These systems often include touchscreen displays, GPS navigation, smartphone integration, music streaming, and even voice commands. While they undoubtedly enhance the driving experience, infotainment systems also come with a significant downside: they pose serious distraction risks to drivers.

Slate puts it succinctly,

The problem isn’t necessarily that infotainment displays are now a standard feature of all new vehicles; in theory, at least, they’re preferable to drivers squinting to read a phone while operating a vehicle. But these systems are rapidly becoming glitzier, more complicated, and just plain bigger, with some resembling supersized tablets attached to your car console.

Meanwhile, they’re essentially unregulated.

One of the primary concerns with infotainment systems is the visual and cognitive distraction they can create. Interacting with a touchscreen or navigating through menus can divert a driver’s attention away from the road, increasing the risk of accidents. The National Safety Council notes that even a few seconds of looking away from the road to adjust settings or read messages on an infotainment screen can have dangerous consequences.

Another issue is the cognitive load imposed by these systems. Drivers may become mentally preoccupied with complex menus and options, leading to reduced situational awareness and slower reaction times. This cognitive overload can be especially problematic when driving conditions are challenging, such as during heavy traffic or adverse weather.

Voice commands, intended to make infotainment systems safer, can also contribute to distractions. Drivers may need to issue multiple commands, correct misinterpretations, or engage in extended conversations with the system, all of which divert their cognitive focus from driving.

To address these concerns, automakers and safety advocates are working on improving the design of infotainment systems to make them more user-friendly and less distracting. This includes implementing better voice recognition technology, simplifying menu structures, and reducing the complexity of tasks that can be performed while driving.

Autoweek published an article detailing a study by Swedish journalists that tested the distraction of infotainment systems across several different vehicles: “The ViBilägare team used 12 different vehicles, ranging from a 2005 Volvo V70 (without any screen) to the newest BMW iX EV and even a Seat Leon. Given that the price range of a vehicle readily affects the kind of screen installed, the test included modern vehicles from the low, middle, and high-end segments.”

The results of the test showed that the 2005 Volvo V70 emerged as the clear winner, taking just 10 seconds to complete tasks without a touchscreen, relying solely on buttons. The Dacia Sandero and Volvo C40 were runners-up, with 13.5 seconds and 13.7 seconds, respectively, to complete tasks using simple but effective touchscreens. On the other hand, the MG Marvel R’s complex infotainment system proved challenging, taking testers a lengthy 44.9 seconds to complete tasks, despite having the largest screen. The BMW iX and Seat Leon also faced criticism for their overly complicated systems, requiring 30.4 seconds and 29.3 seconds, respectively, to navigate.

While auto manufacturers and designers have a responsibility to design and craft safe vehicles, the responsibility also lies with drivers to exercise caution and use these systems judiciously. It’s crucial for drivers to recognize the potential distractions posed by infotainment systems and only interact with them when it’s safe to do so. This means pulling over to make complex adjustments, using voice commands when possible, and avoiding the temptation to engage with the system while driving in challenging conditions.

Distractions are everywhere when you are driving, and it is every driver’s responsibility to control them. It is also important to know that while you may be a very responsible and attentive driver, others might not be. If you are involved in an accident that was caused by someone else’s distracted driving, then you deserve compensation. At Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys, we have over three decades of experience in helping victims of car accidents. We not only help in navigating the complex legal system, but we aim to secure you the largest amount that can be obtained for your case. If you have been in an accident, call or contact us to schedule a free consultation. Our attorneys can meet with you anytime at our office in Kansas City, MO, or you can schedule an appointment at our offices in Lee’s Summit, Parkville and St. Joseph (MO); Olathe, Kansas City, and Overland Park (KS).