Driving to Missouri: Tips, Tricks, and Laws

Although Missouri was ranked the ninth-worst state to drive in, there’s still plenty to enjoy on your drive through the Show Me State!
Written by Brittni Brinn
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
In general, driving in
has gotten worse over the past few years—a 2022 study ranked the Show Me State as the ninth-worst state to drive in. To avoid problems on the road, be sure to familiarize yourself with
Missouri's traffic laws
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The best routes for driving to Missouri

It only takes a few hours of driving to cross the entirety of Missouri—but there’s plenty to see along the way! Whether you’re looking to get your kicks on Route 66 or you want to take a scenic tour through the Ozark wilderness, here are a few paths you can choose from!
  • St. Louis
    —Joplin (5 hours and 11 minutes): Follow the iconic Route 66 as it cuts through Missouri and pay a visit to the Meramec Caverns. Make a stop in Pulaski County for a bite at Elbow Inn Bar and BBQ, visit the charming town of Springfield, or pick up some sweets in Joplin’s historic downtown!
  • Hannibal
    —St. Louis (2 hours): The Little Dixie Highway is a section of the Great River Road that runs along the Mississippi River, following a historic and scenic trail that has been in use for centuries. Keep an eye out for birds, stop in at Clarksville for a unique souvenir, or visit the Mark Twain site.
  • Kansas City
    —St. Louis (4 hours): Take in the old motels along Route 40/I-70 as you cross the Show Me State! From famous shootouts in Kansas City to the Odessa Speedway to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, there’s a lot of history to explore!
  • Branson area (Varying): Exploring the Ozark wilderness is a highlight of any Missouri drive! There are two routes you can take: the Ozark Mountain Parkway (45 minutes) or the Ozark Mountain High Road (15 minutes). The Parkway provides a scenic drive and will take you to the Y bridge, Crane City Park, and Inspiration Tower—not to mention access to excellent fishing spots and breathtaking mountain views. The High Road follows a historic route, providing panoramas of the surrounding natural beauty.  

How good are Missouri’s roads?

According to recent data, 23% of roads in Missouri are considered to be in bad condition. Missouri spends less on road maintenance than the national average, meaning that potholes and worn sections of highways don’t get fixed as quickly as they probably should.
Especially in cities like St. Louis, potholes and other road issues often come up during the spring thaw when snow and ice melts and refreezes, expanding the cracks in the roads. If you’re traveling during “pothole season”, be prepared for road maintenance and construction throughout Missouri.

Does Missouri have toll roads?

There is only one toll road in all of Missouri: The Lake of the Ozarks Community Bridge. The toll road passes over the bridge connecting St. Louis and Kansas City. The booth will only accept cash, so make sure you have some spare change rattling around if you want to cross the lake—two-axle passenger vehicles will usually cost $3, though the price changes depending on the time of year.

How bad is Missouri traffic?

Missouri is right down at the bottom when it comes to traffic—the state was ranked 49th for safety in a recent traffic report. The high rate of accidents and fatalities have increased dramatically over the past few years, leading to more delays, congestion, and safety risks in the Show Me State.
It doesn’t help that one of the worst bottlenecks in America is located in
St. Louis
: the Interstate 64/ I-55 and I-44 intersection is notorious for congestion. If you can swing it, avoid driving through this traffic-heavy area!
There’s nothing worse than hitting rush hour when you’re trying to drive through a major city. In most cases, getting through town before 6 am, between 10 am and 3 pm, or after 7 pm will save you from getting stuck in gridlock. Here are Missouri’s most populated cities:
Key Takeaway With some of the worst roads and most unsafe traffic conditions in the country, driving through Missouri can be a challenge. By planning to avoid heavy traffic areas, you can save yourself a lot of hassle!
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What are Missouri’s speeding laws?

There are two categories of speeding laws in Missouri: basic speeding laws and absolute limit laws.
  • Basic speeding law: This law means that drivers in Missouri must maintain a safe speed at all times. What “safe speed” means can change depending on the road conditions. Going 50 mph on a sunny, clear road is a lot safer than insisting on going the same speed in icy or whiteout conditions. 
  • Absolute limit law: Absolute or maximum limits are posted along roadways to indicate the highest speed you can drive in that area. On rural interstates and freeways, the absolute limit is generally 70 mph. Rural expressways max out at 65 mph, and interstates, highways, and expressways have a 60 mph limit unless otherwise posted.

Fines for speeding in Missouri

If you are
caught speeding in Missouri
, you will be charged with a misdemeanor and will have to pay the appropriate fine. In addition to points on your driving record, you may also have to serve jail time depending on the severity of the infraction.
Here are the penalties you can expect for speeding in Missouri:
  • Violating the basic speeding law: A Class B misdemeanor for driving 20 mph over, up to six months in jail, and up to $1000 in fines.
  • Violating absolute speed limits: A Class C misdemeanor, up to 15 days in jail, and a maximum of $750 in fines.
Any speeding infraction in Missouri will add at least
three points to your driving record
—so be sure you follow the basic and absolute speed limits when you’re passing through. Points don’t only affect your driving record—they also can significantly increase your insurance rates!
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What are Missouri’s alcohol laws?

In Missouri, the legal limit for most drivers is 0.08% blood alcohol content (BAC). Underage drivers have a much lower limit, risking legal consequences if their BAC is over 0.02%. To avoid a DWI charge, make sure you always find alternate transportation if you’ve been drinking.
Missouri does not have state-wide
open container restrictions
, which means that it is legal for you to drive when there is an opened bottle or container of alcohol in the vehicle. Passengers over 21 are legally allowed to drink in a moving vehicle. But be careful—some cities, like Columbia, and counties in Missouri do have restrictions on alcohol in vehicles, so make sure you do a bit of research on the areas you’ll be driving through beforehand.
Any violations involving alcohol—
especially DWIs
—have severe consequences. You could face hefty fines, a
license suspension
, and even jail time for driving under the influence. Keep your Missouri road trip on track by driving sober and safely!

Can you use headphones while driving in Missouri?

Missouri does not have any laws prohibiting headphone use while driving. However, the practice is not encouraged by the Highway Patrol. Even if you are wearing headphones behind the wheel, keep your volume at a level that is not distracting.
Speaking of distracting,
Missouri’s distracted driving laws
prohibit drivers under the age of 21 from texting and driving and commercial truck drivers from using any handheld device while they’re behind the wheel.
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The intersection at Interstate 64/ I-55 and I-44 in St. Louis is considered one of the worst bottlenecks in America.
The trip from Kansas City to St. Louis takes three hours and 45 minutes to drive. For a north-south route, driving from Putnam County to Ridgedale takes five hours and 21 minutes.
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