Missouri State Highway Patrol releases cell phone safety announcements

Friday, August 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Missouri State Highway Patrol released a series of public service announcements Monday aimed at increasing awareness of the dangers of cell phone use while driving.

The announcements cite 1,787 accidents in Missouri in 2008 in which cell phone usage was a factor, resulting in 757 injuries and 17 deaths.

In the announcements, drivers are encouraged to either return calls after they are finished driving or pull to the side of the road to use their cell phones.

Drivers are also discouraged from texting while driving, a problem that has arisen in recent years and has shown to be much more dangerous than other forms of driver distraction such as eating, reading or talking on a cell phone.

These announcements follow the passing of a law banning texting while driving for drivers 21 years old and younger, which will go into effect Aug. 28.

A study released in July by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that truck drivers increased their risk of crashing 23 times when texting.

The Highway Patrol currently tracks cell phone-related incidents through accident reports from those involved, a system Captain J.T. Hull said is in need of an update.

"How we report has to change," said Hull. "Five years ago, DVD players in a car weren't a problem." However, Hull said it will probably be two or three years before accident reports are revised.

Hull said that right now it is difficult to assess to what extent cell phone usage contributes to accidents, since all reports regarding cell phone usage fall under "driver inattention," a broad category that includes reading, eating, distraction from passengers, audio or video distractions — and it is up to those involved to report whether a cell phone was involved.

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