Driving in Missouri
When you drive through the Show Me State, you're crossing the heartland, touring not just the state but the heart of America.
Drivers can hop on Interstate 70 to travel from St. Louis on the eastern edge of the state – home to the iconic Gateway Arch, begun in 1959 to memorialize national westward expansion – and travel in one straight shot to Kansas City, dubbed the "City of Fountains," which sits on the western edge of the state.
Or, if you prefer a meandering route, the rest of the state offers plenty to see. Nature lovers can pack up the camping gear and drive to southeastern Missouri to visit the Mark Twain National Forest, 1.5 million acres of forest that spans 29 counties.
From there, you can head west to the Ozarks to the popular vacation destination of Branson, known for its theaters, wax museum and a Ripley's Odditorium, stuffed with strange sights. In Branson in summer, you'll sometimes encounter bumper-to-bumper traffic, says Stacey Billingsley, who lives in Joplin, Missouri and writes the travel blog Love, Laughter, and Luggage.
And, on the road in this state, you can even see a bit of the country's history, says Billingsley, who lives near parts of old Route 66, known as the "Mother Road," which, according to the National Park Service, "holds a special place in the American consciousness." Travelers today can still drive past many of the old motels, gas stations and other pit stops that evoke the glory days of the historic highway.
"It's fun to travel on it and imagine what it must have been like to drive it in the past," Billingsley says.
Missouri Auto Insurance Laws
Minimum requirements for auto insurance vary from state to state. The Missouri financial responsibility law requires that all drivers maintain minimum liability and uninsured motorist coverage, Missouri drivers must carry coverage in the following amounts:
- Liability insurance of $25,000 per person for bodily injury
- Liability insurance of $50,000 per accident involving multiple people for bodily injury
- Liability insurance of $10,000 per accident for property damage
- Uninsured motorist coverage of $25,000 per person for bodily injury
- Uninsured motorist coverage of $50,000 per accident involving multiple people for bodily injury
Drivers must show proof of insurance when they register a vehicle and when they renew their license plates. Drivers also must always keep proof of insurance in their vehicles so they can produce it at the request of a police officer. A driver who can't immediately offer their insurance information might get a ticket.
Anyone who gets convicted of driving without insurance in Missouri may get their driver's license suspended or receive an order of supervision, meaning that the Driver License Bureau will keep tabs on them to make sure they maintain liability coverage.
Missouri Car Culture
The diverse and varied car culture in Missouri reflects both the urban and rural sides of the state.
"There's a mix of cars here," says Laura Cabrera who lives with her family near Lake of the Ozarks, a popular central Missouri tourist destination that draws families and boaters from all over.
Her family represents this diversity of vehicles, owning both a Toyota Prius and a Ford truck. "Since we live rurally, the Toyota Prius serves as our daily driver to save on gas money," she says. "The truck is great for transporting stuff to and from Home Depot." Even far from the big cities, it's not hard to find a place to recharge the Prius because Tesla just installed eight new charging stations in Osage Beach and throughout Missouri, she points out.
Classic car shows also are a big part of Missouri car culture in her area, and throughout the state. "Many car enthusiasts will spend their time remodeling classic cars and show them off at the lake during the summer," she says.
On the other end of the spectrum, some Missouri car fans focus more on power than looks. In Columbia, a college town smack dab in the center of the state, a growing group of performance vehicle enthusiasts has even requested a drag strip be built so they can put their vehicles to the test off the public roads away from other drivers.
But not everyone is into driving fast, and Missouri "car" culture also involves horses, says Eric Wynn, a traveling auditor who drives frequently between Columbia and Jefferson City for work.
"I have to be very careful passing the Amish buggies as there are no road shoulders, and the buggies are on the main roads," he says.
Urban vs. Rural Roads
Missouri is bookended by the large cities of St. Louis and Kansas City, with their busy downtown streets and urban highways. But the state also is crisscrossed by ribbons of rural roads that wind though bucolic farmlands and dense forests.
In general, driving on rural roads tends to be more dangerous, and rural roads have a disproportionate number of fatal accidents. Nationwide, rural roads account for only 30 percent of vehicle miles traveled but over half of vehicle crash deaths.
In Missouri, rural crashes accounted for 61 percent of traffic deaths in that state in 2014, while urban crashes accounted for only 39 percent. That's substantially higher than the national average, in which rural crashes accounted for 51 percent of deaths.
There are many reasons that rural roads tend to be more dangerous, including a tendency to drive faster, a lower rate of seat belt use and an abundance of deer and other wildlife that can cause crashes. However, road conditions also can play a part.
A study from the National Transportation Research Group released in June 2017 found that Missouri ranks eleventh on a list of states with the worst rural roads in the country. In fact, 21 percent of Missouri's rural roads are in bad shape, and another 27 percent are in mediocre condition, the study found.
Poorly maintained roads and bridges can be dangerous, so these experts say improvements are needed, in Missouri and across the nation.
Driving is on the rise, and U.S. drivers put 3.2 trillion miles on their vehicles in 2016, which is 2.8 percent more than they drove in 2015.
And Missourians are hitting the road more too, driving an average of 11,990 miles per person in 2014, an increase of 546 miles, or five percent, over 2011. That's substantially lower than the national average of almost 13,500 miles per person.
The national uptick in miles driven could be one reason that the number of traffic fatalities in the United States, generally on a downward trend thanks to vehicle safety improvements, hit a nine-year high of 40,000 deaths in 2016, according to early numbers from the National Safety Council.
Like the rest of the nation, Missouri also has had a rise in the number of vehicle crash fatalities. The total number of crash deaths in Missouri hit 948 in 2016, an increase from 870 in 2015 and 766 in 2014.
The Missouri crash fatality rate of 1.21 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is higher than the U.S. average of 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, making Missouri a slightly less safe than average state in which to drive.
Drivers can stay safer and protect their passengers and other drivers by remembering to buckle up and keeping their eyes and attention on the road.
Gas Prices in Missouri
Missouri drivers don't have to worry about sticker shock when fueling up their vehicles. In fact, Missouri and surrounding states have some of the lowest gas prices in the country as of late August 2017.
As of Aug. 23, 2017, the national average gas price had dropped slightly to $2.33 a gallon, while Missouri rang up below the national average at $2.17 a gallon. In fact, AAA reported that Missouri was one of the 10 states with the cheapest gas. In St. Peters, Missouri, a city outside St. Louis, gas was being sold as low as $1.85 a gallon. Even when prices are this low, drivers should follow simple gas saving tips, such as keeping tires properly inflated and maintaining a safe distance between vehicles, which also improve driving safety.
Paying special attention to safety is key because low gas prices may mean more miles logged, which leads to more traffic accidents. One researcher, Guangqing Chi, a professor at Penn State University, found that a 20-cent drop in gas prices in one state could lead to an additional 15 deaths there in a year.
The unemployment rate, nationally and at a state level, can affect driving and the number of accidents. Generally, a lower unemployment rate means more miles on the road and a higher number of accidents.
In fact, the number of fatalities on the roads took an especially deep dip as the economy did in 2008 with the Great Recession. As the economy recovered, however, the number of road deaths ticked upward, rising by seven percent in 2015 and again in 2016, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Across the country, unemployment continues on its downward trend, and in Missouri, the numbers are even lower. As of May 2017, the unemployment rate in Missouri was 3.9 percent, compared with a national average of 4.3 percent.
The number of crashes is expected to continue to increase in coming years, but the good news is that crash avoidance technology in vehicles could reverse that trend, according to the IIHS.
Efforts to Remediate Distracted Driving
Driving in a less-than-attentive manner is a real problem across the United States, especially now that most drivers have pinging smartphones in the car. In 2015, distracted driving accidents claimed 3,477 lives and injured 391,000 people on U.S. roads.
But the problem is bigger than cell phones. There are many causes of distracted driving, and accidents have been caused by drivers eating, putting on makeup or even daydreaming behind the wheel.
However, distracted driving can be prevented, and many states are trying to curb the problem through distracted driving laws. Unfortunately, Missouri distracted driving laws are less stringent than those in many other states.
While 47 states prohibit texting for all drivers, Missouri bans texting while driving only for drivers 21 and younger. In Missouri, drivers in this age group who are caught texting can get a fine of $200 and get two points added to their driver license.
Also, Missouri is not one of the 15 states that ban the use of hand-held cell phones for all drivers. However, the state admits that driving while using cell phones is not safe and recommends that drivers consider using safe driving apps that lock down your phone while you're operating a vehicle while still allowing you to dial 911 in an emergency.
Teen Driving Regulations
The Missouri graduated driver licensing laws for new drivers 15 to 18 years old help teens gain driving experience while earning driving privileges in stages.
In Missouri, a teen can get a learner's permit at age 15 by passing vision, road sign recognition and written tests at a state driver examination station. Permit holders under age 16 may only drive with certain types of licensed drivers sitting in the front passenger seat. People allowed to drive with the teen include: a parent or legal guardian, a grandparent, a qualified driving instructor, or a driver 25 or older who has been licensed to drive for at least three years and has written permission from the parent or legal guardian.
At age 16 and up, a new driver with a permit may drive with a front-seat passenger who is at least 21 years old and holds a valid driver license.
After holding a permit for at least 182 days, a teen aged 16 to 18 can apply for an intermediate driver license. A parent or other qualified person must go with the teen to attest that he or she has had a minimum of 40 hours of driving instruction, 10 of those at night. The driver must have no alcohol-related convictions in the past year and no traffic convictions in the past six months. The teen also must retake and pass the vision and written tests if more than a year has gone by since the previous tests. And they must pass a driving test.
The state also places driving restrictions on new teen drivers. In the first six months of driving, they may not carry more than one passenger under 19 who is not a member of their immediate family. Afterward, the driver may not carry more than three under-19, non-family passengers.
Teens also may not drive between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. except to a school activity or work, in an emergency, or if with a licensed driver 21 or older.
At age 18, the teen may apply for an under-21 full driver license if they meet requirements, including no alcohol convictions in the past year and no traffic convictions in the past six months.
Parents should monitor teen driving to help ensure their child stays safe on the road. AAA recommends setting rules for your teen and creating a parent-teen driver agreement to ensure your young driver understands your rules of the road.
The State of Driving in Missouri
Driving through the open roads of the Show Me State, you can almost hear Simon & Garfunkel's "America" as the soundtrack to your travels. From the cities that frame the state on either side, to the woods and rivers in between, there's plenty to see in this Midwestern state.
To experience the heart of America, just get in your car in Missouri, buckle up and enjoy the drive.