FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Safety and law enforcement experts agree — distracted driving is hazardous.

And now, thanks to a new Missouri law, drivers on and off post will be violating laws, regulations or both, when using mobile phones or other electronic communication devices not considered “hands free.”

The new law — signed July 6 by Missouri Governor Mike Parson, and called the “Siddens Bening Hands Free Law,” — was named for Randall Siddens, who was killed May 5, 2019, by a distracted driver using a smartphone-enabled video teleconferencing app while driving nearly 20 mph over the speed limit, and Michael Bening, who was killed by a suspected distracted driver on May 13, 2021.

Fort Leonard Wood’s Garrison Safety Director, Don Busbice, cited the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when he said thousands of people are killed each year due to a very preventable problem — he reported 3,522 fatalities nationwide, just in 2021, the most-recent year’s numbers currently available. He also noted NHTSA statistics regarding texting and driving, which takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of five seconds — at 55 mph, that’s about equal to driving the length of a football field with eyes closed.

“We must all get involved with this effort,” Busbice said. “Distracted driving is a known hazard. Operating a vehicle when distracted takes away from too many hazards present: roadways, traffic patterns, other drivers, animals, etc.”

Busbice said Missouri’s hands-free law now makes it illegal for drivers to hold their phones or devices in their hands while behind the wheel.

The law also specifies penalties for violators, including enhanced penalties for repeat offenders; violations occurring in a work zone, when workers are present; violations occurring in a school zone; and violations causing property damage, personal injury or death.

More information on the new law can be found here.

In addition to knowing the hands-free expectations off post, on-post drivers should also be aware of stipulations regarding hands-free devices in FLW Regulation 190-5.

These stipulations include prohibitions for all drivers on Fort Leonard Wood from using “cellular telephones” while “operating a motor vehicle, regardless of location, unless the vehicle is safely parked, or the driver is using a hands-free device.”

The regulation further defines what constitutes “using a cellular telephone,” along with penalties violators face.

Regulation 190-5, along with all other Fort Leonard Wood regulations, are available on the installation’s website.

According to Lt. Col. Erin Fritzler, director of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood’s Directorate of Emergency Services and Provost Marshal, on-post law enforcement focuses on stopping distracted drivers before they can damage property, or worse, potentially injure or kill themselves or others.

“We have been stepping up our selective enforcement efforts on catching distracted drivers on post,” Fritzler said. “We think our efforts will reduce our on-post vehicle accidents. We have been lucky that no serious injuries have taken place due to distracted driving, but it shouldn’t take a tragedy to change behavior. Everyone who drives on this installation is part of our team — we are all important, and we cannot accept the risk of losing one person because a text or alert on a phone couldn’t wait.”

Busbice summed up the fight against distracted driving as “pure common sense,” and he advised drivers to be “as alert as possible” to the potential dangers present on the roads.

“Awareness of your surroundings is the safest method to mitigate the hazard of distracted driving,” Busbice said.