JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Buckle up, phone down. A new law in Missouri and now state police and families impacted by distracted drivers are challenging Missourians.
Since the end of August, drivers of all ages have been prohibited from holding their phones to text, call, or scroll on social media while behind the wheel. Missouri was one of the last states in the country to enact this law. Those who lost their loved ones are just happy their voice has been heard.
“It’s on the sign,” Adrienne Siddens said. “I’m so proud of the buckle up, phone down signs that now say ‘state law.’ It’s really powerful, and it’s really exciting to be able to say we’re no longer the last state waiting for this.”
In May 2019, Adrienne received a phone call no one wanted to get. Her husband, Randall, a father of three, was struck by a distracted driver while picking up cones after a triathlon race in Columbia.
“The woman driving the car that hit Randall was video chatting, speeding, and not paying attention to stopped traffic in front of her,” Siddens said. “She sideswiped Randall’s coworker, who sustained minor injuries and then hit Randall directly, throwing him 120 feet and slamming into the cone truck.”
He died six months later. He was 34.
Since then, Adrienne has been advocating for a law to ban drivers from using their cell phones while behind the wheel. Randall is now one of the two men Missouri’s new hands-free law is named after. The Siddens-Bening Hands-Free Law took effect in August.
“I know Randall would be very proud that I didn’t just fall in a hole and shut the world out,” Siddens said Wednesday. “I’m still living and advocating and trying to make the world a better place, which is what his passion in life was.”
Randall is remembered by loved ones as outgoing and selfless. He was a full-time dad but worked on the weekends for Ultramax.
“Randall kissed me before he left, told me that he loved me and then went to do a job that he truly loved,” Siddens said. “The worst day of my life occurred Nov. 18, 2019, when I had to make the decision to stop treatment and take Randall off the ventilator, knowing that every effort had been made to save his life.”
Randall suffered from a brain injury, a failing kidney, internal bleeding, multiple pelvic fractures and other complications. Adrienne and Randall had been married for nine years, had two children under three, and was four months pregnant with her third.
“I endured six months in hospitals away from my kids, giving birth to our daughter by myself and clung to hope that this would be just a bad memory,” Siddens said. “I hope sharing my story serves as a reminder every time you get into the car to buckle up and put your phone down.”
Siddens shared her story during the state’s annual Buckle Up Phone Down Day, where the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) challenge drivers to buckle up and put the phone down every time they get behind the wheel.
“We know distracted driving is the leading cause of crashes in Missouri,” MoDOT State Highway Safety and Traffic Engineer Nicole Hood said. “Last year, over half of the distracted driving fatalities in Missouri claimed the life of another person and not the distracted driver and nearly two-thirds of those that died in Missouri crashes were unbuckled.”
The law does allow drivers to use a hands-free option like headphones, Bluetooth, or voice-to-text. Violating the hands-free law is deemed a secondary violation, meaning law enforcement can only write a citation after pulling the driver over for something else, like not wearing a seat belt.
“For all those that would say that this is some personal freedom issue, I challenge that because it’s not your personal freedom to impact the lives of others negatively,” MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said. “Do it for your safety, for your family’s safety and for the safety of all other road users.”
According to MoDOT and MSHP, last year, 84 people died as a result of a distracted driving crash and 382 died in an accident where they weren’t wearing a seat belt.
“This seemingly simple task of buckling your seatbelt and not physically using your phone can truly mean the difference between life and death,” McKenna said. “This crisis can be adverted.”
While Siddens said she would like to see holding your phone while driving become a primary violation, she’s glad the law is finally on the books.
“I think it does its job,” Siddens said. “I think the law is making people pay attention, wake up and put their phones down. We all have ups and downs but how drastically would your life change if you lost your person because of a distracted driver?”
The women who hit Randall is spending 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
Although law enforcement cannot write tickets until January 2025, MSHP said that since the law went into effect in August, it has issued 94 warnings. A first-time violation will result in a $150 fine.