University Hospital trauma center seeks to end distracted driving

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 | 6:21 p.m. CDT; updated 8:47 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 21, 2012

COLUMBIA — The trauma center at University Hospital has plans to make distracted driving — a recent development as smartphones become faster and attention spans become shorter — a thing of the past.

On Wednesday, trauma surgeon James Kessel described the repercussions of distracted driving as part of a brief meeting hosted by the trauma center to raise awareness of driving under nontraditional influences — texting, for one.

Lori Popejoy, a mother whose child was killed by a distracted driver, and Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Ronald Replogle spoke alongside Kessel at the conference Wednesday. 

Kessel said at the conference that in a matter of seconds, a car can travel 300 feet. He said that it is during these crucial moments that mistakes — often deadly ones — can occur.

"It's just not worth the risk," he said to listeners.

Currently, there is a texting ban in Missouri for drivers 21 and younger. However, Missouri Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, proposed legislation that seeks to change this law and institute a penalty for drivers who are caught texting.

James Stowe, a trauma prevention coordinator at the trauma center, said the center has brought the issue of distracted driving to the forefront and created a three-pronged approach to raising awareness, inspired by the Decide to Drive campaign sponsored by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Stowe said one part of the initiative is the introduction of a curriculum for fifth- and sixth-graders designed to encourage them to keep their parents on task when they're driving. The other initiatives include hosting events and giving presentations in four major Missouri cities — St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and Springfield.

Stowe said the trauma center's push for awareness is to get people to spread the word.

"If you can just reach a couple folks, and they talk to their friends, that's what will be really effective," Stowe said.

This week is also "Reality Week" for Columbia Public Schools, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Transportation, during which students will learn about driving habits as well as the effects of drinking and technology use in the car.

There is a workshop for young drivers for "Reality Week" from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Hickman High School's auditorium.

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