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Drivers urged to buckle up, put phone down

Drivers urged to buckle up, put phone down

October 21st, 2017 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

William Woods University sophomore Jenny Parr "crashes" to a stop on the Missouri Highway Patrol's Seat Belt Convincer, which emulates the force of a head-on collision at 5 mph.

Photo by Dean Asher

With distracted driving a leading cause of vehicle crashes in the United States and Missouri, law enforcement and transportation officials continue to look for ways to combat the problem.

The Buckle Up/Phone Down campaign began in January as an attempt to drive down the number of fatalities on Missouri roadways.

Friday was designated Buckle Up/Phone Down Day to encourage people to wear seat belts and avoid using their phones while driving.

Since the campaign started, more than 1,200 people have accepted the challenge and 262 businesses and organizations have come on board.

The challenge is simple: When you get into a vehicle, buckle your safety belt. If you are a driver, put the cellphone down or turn it off; no texting and no talking unless hands free.

Six out of 10 people killed in 2016 Missouri traffic crashes were unbuckled, according to figures from the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri Highway Patrol. Missouri has no primary seat belt law, and only nine states rank lower in safety belt use.

Crashes involving cellphones have increased 20 percent since 2014. Missouri is one of only three states with no all-driver texting ban. Authorities say texting increases the risk of car crashes by 50 percent.

In addition to getting individuals to accept the challenge, the Buckle Up/Phone Down goal is to get private industries to openly support employee safety, either through internal safety campaigns or banning cellphone use in company vehicles and making safety belts mandatory.

Jefferson City and Cole County governments have joined the campaign, as has Central Bank.

Christine Ellinger, Central Bank senior vice president of human resources, said at a Friday news conference at Central Bank's downtown offices that she had personally seen what the campaign slogan is all about.

"I was stopped on U.S. 40 in St. Louis when a woman driving behind me was texting," Ellinger said. "I was completely stopped, and she was going 55-60 mph. She hit my Ford Explorer so hard that her car went into the third row of my seats. This pushed me into a truck that was in front of me. She made no attempt to stop or swerve or brake. I asked how I walked away from the crash, and the trooper told me it was because I had my seat belt on."

Also speaking Friday was Kayle Denny, a Jefferson City resident and Columbia College student who suffered serious injuries in a 2007 car crash and now represents Think First Missouri, an MU program that works to prevent traumatic injuries through education, research and policy.

"I was 17 and a senior in high school. I was driving, it was raining, I lost control and flipped over," Denny said. "I didn't make any of my passengers wear seat belts. As a result, one was thrown out and broke her pelvis, while another friend was thrown out, and he died on impact."

Denny broke her neck and back and now has limited use of her hands and walks with a cane.

"I'm expecting my first child in April, and that's going to be incredibly challenging for me," she said. "I'm scared, but I have to try and adapt to this world that wasn't made for people with injuries like what I have. You hear all the statistics, but we need to remember those are lives affected by crashes. I can put a face to those statistics. My friend who died in the crash will never be 19, and his parents won't have grandchildren. It was my responsibility to make sure he should have been wearing a seat belt, and I have to live with that every day. It's little things that make all the difference."