Missouri City Enacts Broad Distracted Driving Ordinance

December 5, 2014

Officials in an eastern Missouri city have approved an ordinance that prohibits distracted driving practices such as fixing hair and makeup and programming GPS devices.

Drivers aren’t exercising the highest degree of care if they are engaged in any action that causes their attention “to be obscured, diminished or directed away from the path of travel or operation of the vehicle,” the new ordinance says. It lists six examples that include grooming and writing.

“We’re not saying those things are per se illegal,” said Kevin O’Keefe, O’Fallon’s city attorney. He said such activity is evidence a judge can use to examine whether a person has driven carelessly.

“It’s guidance for the officers, it’s guidance for the public,” he said. “It does make it easier to prove it.”

Police Chief Roy Joachimstaler said officers mainly would use the new law in accident investigations.

Supporters of the new city law, like Councilman Jim Pepper, say it’s long overdue. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he’s been cut off in traffic at least four times in recent months by people using their cellphones.

But Councilman John Haman, the only member to vote against the bill, said he worried some motorists would be pulled over for drinking coffee or eating a candy bar while others wouldn’t.

A petition drive to overturn the O’Fallon ordinance has already begun, with opponents calling it overkill.

Former Republican state Rep. Cynthia Davis said the measure enacted by the City Council violates individual rights. She said it gives police more power to issue tickets “for doing what 100 percent of the people already do at some time, including the police officers.”

Several other communities including Ladue and Creve Coeur have similar rules on the books that require drivers to “maintain a proper lookout.”

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