Do we really need a law against sending text messages while driving, an obviously dangerous act?

Apparently we do, just as much common sense needs legislation to back it up once in a while. But the Missouri General Assembly’s schizophrenic attitude toward public safety was on full display again in the legislative session it just completed.

Consider three issues:

• Texting while driving. Our legislators voted to ban it only for drivers younger than 21. What is the thinking behind that? If it’s dangerous to texters and the innocent drivers around them, ban it. If not, let it be. There’s no indication that this activity magically becomes safe with 21 candles on your birthday cake.

• Legislators took a major step backward by voting to repeal the motorcycle helmet requirement. Unless you’re under 21. Or on the interstate.

Again, what’s the difference? Danger is danger. Does it matter if you’re going 70 mph on I-70 or 70 mph on U.S. 40? Is an 18-year-old less likely than a 45-year-old to survive a bad wreck?
This law has been on the books for 40 years. Repealing it will mean more injury and death. It will cost taxpayers more money, as catastrophic injuries wrack up medical bills for programs such as Medicaid. This bill is sitting on Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk.

• Legislators again declined to put some teeth in the law that says motorists and drivers have to wear a seat belt. About three-quarters of Missourians buckle up, well below the national average of 83 percent. For Missouri teenagers, it’s even worse; about two-thirds buckle up.

There’s little wonder why Missouri lags. The cops usually can’t touch you. Of the hundreds of traffic laws in this state, the seat belt law is the only one the police cannot pull you over for. You have to do something else – run a stop sign, have a dead tail light – and only then can the police cite you also for the seat-belt thing.

This makes no sense. State officials say “primary enforcement” would save 90 lives and prevent 1,000 serious injuries a year, but legislators did nothing.

Oh, this costs us money too. By refusing to address the issue, the state passed up at least $16 million in federal funds. That money won’t be there next year. The deadline was 2009.