Texting Ban Yields Few Offenders in Missouri

Lawmakers love to "get tough" on society's ills. But banning something is often better politics than policy—as states that have outlawed texting behind the wheel are starting to learn. In 2009 a dozen states rushed to restrict the practice; 20 more are expected to follow this year, and Congress is considering making the bans universal. But hold on, say traffic experts: the bans are virtually useless in practice. Missouri's State Highway Patrol has nabbed just eight text offenders in five months, and since law enforcement often can't tell the difference between illegal phone jockeying and someone rooting around for change, few doubt a similar outcome nationwide.

Bans can help change behavior, of course. But they often require a simultaneous public-awareness cam-paign, along the same lines as "Don't Drink and Drive." So far only Utah has gone that route, producing a 15--minute documentary about a texting accident that's shown in schools. For a politician, however, "I made a PSA" just doesn't have much punch.