What Is The Law?


There isn’t a year that goes by where Missouri drivers, regardless of age, ask the same peculiar questions. The more frequent questions are: Is it illegal to drive barefoot in Missouri? Is it illegal to drive with head phones on? How old must a child have to be to ride in the front seat of a car?  What is the actual distance one car can follow another? Why can’t I ride my all terrain vehicle (ATV) on a gravel road? What is the minimum bumper height of a passenger vehicle?

First, contrary to popular belief and to most grandparents, it is not illegal to drive barefoot in Missouri! In fact, at times, it may even be safer to drive without shoes. For example, female drivers who wear the two-inch heels, pumps, wedges, or even the thin flip-flops, may be safer depending on the abilities of the driver, to drive barefoot, so they can gage the pedals better. Some of the thin flip-flops will bend up under the pedal, or if it gets wet, your foot may slide off or twist on the sandal causing a hazardous situation.

In Missouri, it is not illegal to drive while wearing headphones.  The Highway Patrol does not encourage this practice, but it is not illegal. An example of this situation is a hearing impaired person can drive.  If you are wondering, all emergency vehicles in the state of Missouri must have their lights and siren activated when on an emergency call. If you cannot see the light, you will be more likely to hear the siren, and if you can’t hear the siren more than likely, you will see the lights. Operating a vehicle in today's traffic requires your full attention.

How old must a child be to ride in the front seat of a car? This question is asked quite often and the answer is: A child can ride in the front seat of a car at any age! Yes, at any age--as long as the parents or driver adheres to the child restraint laws of this state. The child restraint law is this:  RSMo 307.179 - A child under the age of four or less than 40 pounds must be in an approved car seat. A child four, but less than eight, must be in an approved booster seat, except when they are over 80 pounds and taller than 4’9”. Then they can be in a seat belt. Every child who is between eight and 16 years of age must be in a seat belt regardless of where they are sitting in the vehicle. Now, is it as safe as having the child sit in the back seat? Of course not, especially with the air bag issues. We recommend that children ride in the back seat until they reach the age of 13.  However, it is not illegal.

What is the actual distance one car can follow another? Most drivers are shocked and have the opened mouth, dead fish look when told there is no actual or measured distance one car can follow another.  Most drivers will then respond with, “one car length for every 10 miles per hour while traveling on the highway.”  Again, contrary to popular belief, that is actually not a safe distance either. The revised statutes of Missouri 304.017 states, “A car, motorcycle or truck registered under 18,000 pounds shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonably safe and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon and the condition of the roadway.” We recommend following at least 3 seconds back during normal driving conditions. The myth about distances may possibly come into play regarding trucks over 18,000 pounds and buses. In this case, the statutes state, “The driver of any truck or bus, when traveling upon a public highway of this state outside of a business or residential district, shall not follow within 300 feet of another such vehicle except when passing.” 

Why can’t I ride my ATV on a gravel road? The answer to this question is quite simple. However, most Missouri residents do not actually read the laws of this state and if they did they could miss this one. It all comes down to the definition of a highway. Most people think of a highway as a paved road, street, or interstate. In fact, the definition is this (as defined by statute), “Any public thoroughfare for vehicles, including state roads, county roads, and public streets, avenues, boulevards, parkways, or alleys in any municipality.” Given this definition, according to RSMo. Section 304.013, ATVs cannot be driven on any highway ... period. As in most situations there are exemptions.  In the case of ATVs they can be ridden on the highways for government or agricultural use only.

What is the minimum bumper height for cars in Missouri?  Well, this one is easy. The simple truth is that there is no minimum bumper height. However, there is a maximum, which for most cars is 22 inches. So, if you have a low riding vehicle that’s not touching the ground, it’s OK. RSMo 307.172 states No person shall operate any passenger motor vehicle upon the public streets or highways of this state, the

body of which has been altered in such a manner that the front or rear of the vehicle is raised at such an angle as to obstruct the vision of the operator of the street or highway in front or to the rear of the vehicle.

2. Every motor vehicle which is licensed in this state and operated upon the public streets or highways of this state shall be equipped with front and rear bumpers if such vehicle was equipped with bumpers as standard equipment. This subsection shall not apply to motor vehicles designed or modified primarily for off-highway purposes while such vehicles are in tow or to motorcycles or motor-driven cycles, or to motor vehicles registered as historic motor vehicles when the original design of such vehicles did not include bumpers nor shall the provisions of this subsection prohibit the use of drop bumpers. The superintendent of the Missouri state highway patrol shall adopt rules and regulations relating to bumper standards. Maximum bumper heights of both the front and rear bumpers of motor vehicles shall be determined by weight category of gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) measured from a level surface to the highest point of the bottom of the bumper when the vehicle is unloaded and the tires are inflated to the manufacturer's recommended pressure. Maximum bumper heights are as follows:

Maximum front Maximum rear bumper height bumper height Motor vehicles except commercial motor vehicles 22 inches 22 inches Commercial motor vehicles (GVWR)

4,500 lbs and under 24 inches 26 inches

4,501 lbs through 7,500 lbs 27 inches 29 inches

7,501 lbs through 9,000 lbs 28 inches 30 inches

9,001 lbs through 11,500 lbs 29 inches 31 inches

3. A motor vehicle in violation of this section shall not be approved during any motor vehicle safety inspection required pursuant to sections 307.350 to 307.390.

4. Any person knowingly violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a class C misdemeanor.

But, here is the catch: There is a minimum license plate height. So, according to RSMo 301.130, in order to be legal, your license plate has to be at least eight inches off the ground and no higher than 48 inches, with the letters and numbers thereon right side up, which keeps most vehicles registered in this state from having low riding bumpers. 

Hopefully we have busted some myths associated with driving within the state of Missouri.  One fact, which is not a myth, is the use of seat belts.  Seat belts do save lives and the Patrol encourages motorists to protect themselves from all types of hazardous drivers by making sure everyone in the vehicle is properly restrained in a seat belt or child restraint. Click It 4 Life !!!