Missouri’s New Hands-Free Law


Distracted driving accidents continue to rise across the nation as people have a growing dependency on their smartphones for communication, entertainment, and navigation. Fortunately, studies show that distracted driving in Missouri has dropped by 7.8% since the state enacted the Siddens-Benning Hands-Free Law prohibiting Missouri drivers from holding a cell phone while behind the wheel, including texting, calling, checking social media, or using a navigation tool. Named for two Missouri motorists killed by distracted drivers, the law took effect in August of 2023, though law enforcement officers will not begin issuing citations until 2025.

Missouri's new law to combat distracted driving accidents

What Is a Hands-Free Law?

Nearly 30 states have enacted hands-free laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving. Missouri’s governor, Mike Parson, signed Missouri’s hands-free law into effect after two years of increased distracted driving accidents in Missouri, making distracted driving the leading cause of car accidents in Missouri. There were over 800 distracted driving fatalities between 2012 and 2021, a number believed to be greatly underreported since it isn’t always possible to prove that a driver was looking at a phone during an accident.

Missouri’s Siddens-Benning Hands-Free Law allows drivers to use voice-activated cell phone technology but prohibits any hands-on use of a cell phone or other electronic communication device while driving except in emergency situations.

Under Missouri §304.822, the law states the following:

“While operating a noncommercial motor vehicle or commercial motor vehicle on any highway or property open to the public for vehicular traffic in this state, no operator shall physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body, an electronic communication device; 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. This subdivision shall not apply to operators of a noncommercial motor vehicle using a voice-operated or hands-free feature or function that converts the message to be sent as a message in a written form, provided that the operator does not divert his or her attention from lawful operation of the vehicle.”

What Is a Secondary Offense in Distracted Driving?

Missouri classifies traffic citations into two types, primary and secondary offenses. A law enforcement officer may pull over a driver for a primary offense, such as speeding or running a red light; however, they may only issue a secondary offense citation during a traffic stop for a primary offense. In other words, a law enforcement officer cannot pull over a driver for using a cell phone, but they may issue a traffic citation for using a cell phone while pulled over for another offense. Violating a seat belt law is also a secondary offense citation in Missouri.

Beginning in 2025, citations issued for using a cell phone while driving in Missouri will be $150 for first offenses. If the driver receives a second citation in the next 24 months, the fine increases to $250. A third offense within 24 months costs the driver $500. Drivers caught texting and driving in school or construction zones will receive enhanced fines of up to $500 for a first offense.

Until 2025, drivers cited for texting while driving will only receive warnings. The delay serves the purpose of informing drivers of the new law and allowing them time to adapt to using hands-free technology.

If you were involved in an accident with a distracted driver, contact our St. Louis accident lawyers to pursue compensation for your damages.