There were at least 79 fatalities in Missouri related to distracted driving in 2018.
Since 2014, cellphone-related crashes in Missouri have increased by 35%.
There were nearly 2,600 cellphone-related crashes in 2017, and Missouri was on the same pace in 2018.
These numbers and several other startling statistics were shared by Nicole Hood, MoDOT state highway safety and traffic engineer, at an event Tuesday called “Missouri Roundtable on Distracted Driving: Act to End Deadly Distraction.”
The discussion in the MU Memorial Student Union was presented by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, and it featured nearly 30 panelists from a wide range of organizations. Among the organizations represented were MoDOT, Columbia PD, the University of Missouri, Students Against Destructive Decisions and the Missouri House of Representatives.
The roundtable was held in conjunction with MoDOT’s third annual Buckle Up Phone Down Day, an initiative that aims to raise awareness and educate people about the dangers of distracted driving.
“Why not just take two simple measures and buckle up and phone down when you get in your vehicle so that we can try to save lives and move towards zero deaths on our roadways?” Hood said.
Only two states in the U.S. do not have an all-age ban on distracted driving. Missouri is one of them.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommends banning all personal electronic devices that do not contribute to the driving task to help solve the problem of distracted driving, said Bruce Landsberg, vice chairman of the board and facilitator of the roundtable. He said the first step in this process is to ban texting for all ages in Missouri.
“This is an important issue that has not been properly addressed by the general assembly,” Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said.
“I’m optimistic by events like this with people being engaged,” he added, “because outreach to legislatures is critical on this issue.”
Many of the panelists stressed the importance of contacting lawmakers to create change in Missouri.
Some panelists also encouraged downloading free apps onto your phone that can send automated responses to people who attempt to contact you while you are driving.
“I tell children all the time at the schools I go to and youth groups I go to all the time that they can put an app in their phone now that costs nothing,” survivor advocate Frank Travis said. Travis lost his daughter, Brittany Travis, in a distracted driving-related crash in 2013.
Others who need to respond quickly to phone calls may simply choose to pull to the side of the road before answering their cell phone.
“It’s not that hard to find someplace safe to pull over, take the call, deal with the things and then get back to what I was doing,” Landsberg said.
Distracted driving is not only a problem among younger drivers. Around 70% of drivers using cellphones in Missouri traffic crashes in 2017 were 22 or older, Hood said.
Another way people can help reduce distracted driving is by setting an example for those around them.
“We’re in the Show-Me State, and the irony is not lost on me that parents and other adults in our everyday lives are showing young people exactly what behaviors they expect behind the wheel,” said Rick Birt, president of Students Against Destructive Decisions.
MoDOT hopes to expand its Buckle Up Phone Down inititaive to the national level in coming years, Hood said, and it encouages people to accept the Buckle Up Phone Down challenge on its website.
Supervising editor is Fred Anklam.