Springfield, MO

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Council considers local ‘distracted driving’ ban

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Springfield Police Department officers could soon ticket motorists for distracted driving – that is, texting, changing radio stations or simply looking away from the road – under an ordinance that received initial review Monday night.

Springfield City Council is now expected to vote May 21 on the ordinance that would make the offense, “careless and distracted driving,” a primary reason for police to make traffic stops, though members of the dais voiced mixed feelings on the proposed code.

Mayor Ken McClure offered the most rebuttal, namely on a state pre-emption that disallows local governments from enacting stiffer penalties on texting while driving.

“If we are pre-empted from doing a restriction on texting,” McClure said, “how can I be stopped, then, under this ordinance?”

Current state law pre-empts local police from ticketing drivers older than 21 for texting or using a hand-held mobile devices while driving, other than commercial drivers. The proposed city ordinance, however, doesn’t specifically name texting as an infraction.

“I reread this twice before I came in here, and I don’t see the word ‘texting’ anywhere in there,” Springfield Police Department Chief Paul Williams told McClure.

“I’m not going to stop you for texting,” Williams added. “I’m going to stop you for being distracted while operating your motor vehicle.”

Distracted driving would mean “any conduct” causing motorists’ “vision or attention to be obscured, diminished or directed away from the path of travel,” according the proposed ordinance.

Other possible infractions specifically include “using a mirror to engage in grooming, reading anything ... other than operation information displayed on a motor vehicle’s gauges and equipment,” or “turning one’s head substantially away from the path of travel to observe things in the motor vehicle or outside of the motor vehicle but contrary to the path of travel,” the ordinance reads.

Drivers, meanwhile, would still be allowed “reasonable use” of devices “being used solely for navigation purposes,” according to the ordinance. But that could include phones with map applications, McClure contested.

“My reservation on this is that I feel there is too much subjective discretion,” he said. “When we passed our primary seatbelt law, you either are or are not wearing your seatbelt.”

For distracted driving, guilty drivers would lose two points from their license, as well as face a $225 maximum fine for infractions that don’t cause an accident, said Ragan Wright, an assistant city prosecutor who presented the proposed code.

Wright said a $1,000 maximum fine would be imposed for infractions that do cause accidents. An approved careless and distracted driving clause would come atop the city’s current prohibition on “careless and imprudent” driving.
Councilman Craig Hosmer said the additional code could provide an important educational tool for motorists.

“A C&I just says you’re not operating on the highest degree of care,” Hosmer said. “You talk about being unclear, that’s state law and current city ordinance.

“This [ordinance] gives us the ability to direct people, to inform people, on what we mean when we say, ‘Focus your attention on the road in front of you, where your focus should be.’”


1 comment on this story |
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shelia wright

I firmly believe we need a distracted driving ordinance. Many if most of us are tired of needing to slow down in the left lane while a distracted driver in the right lane sweves into our lane then jerks back and hits the curbthenovercorrect back across the line between the 2 lanes

Tuesday, May 8, 2018
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