When it comes to highway safety, Missouri is simply failing.
And failure simply shouldn't be an option.
Within the past decade, the state has received two unfavorable reports from safety advocacy groups focused on public policy and awareness. In 2017, Missouri received an "F" from the National Safety Council and an overall road safety ranking of 49 out of 51.
In its 2021 Roadmap Report, Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety labeled Missouri as one of the worst states in adopting optimal highway safety laws, pointing to poor laws related to seat belts, child passenger safety, teen driving requirements and distracted driving.
The Missouri Department of Transportation's strategic highway safety plan, dubbed Show Me Zero, cited a number of reasons why we are faring so poorly. The report emphasized the prevalence of risky behaviors, including excessive speeds, aggressive driving, distraction and impairment.
Along with choosing not to wear a seat belt, these factors account for more than three-fourths of traffic fatalities in Missouri, according to the report.
C'mon, Missourians, we can do better.
If asked, all of us would say we desire safer roads for ourselves and our families. Yet, when we get behind that wheel, we simply aren't doing our part to achieve that goal for our families and for others' families.
A presentation at Missouri's 2022 Highway Safety and Traffic Conference so beautifully demonstrated the disconnect we have when we are behind the wheel.
The presenter asked the audience: "Who had looked at their phone while driving or been a passenger in the car with a driver who looked at their phone in the last month?"
Almost every hand in the room was raised. The question was asked of a room full of first responders, law enforcement officers and administrative support staff who daily see the ravages of distracted driving.
"The story of distracted driving is the story of hypocrisy," said Joel Feldman, leading safety advocate. "Until we face our own hypocrisy, we're not going to change the numbers."
Feldman knows the cost of distracted driving. His daughter was crossing a street when she was hit by a 58-year-old man looking at his GPS instead of the road in 2009.
"There are two phases in my life," Feldman said. "Everything that happened before she was killed and everything after."
As we all know, every trip begins with the first mile. So if Missouri is to start on the road to safer highways, let's start with a general ban on texting while driving.
While the Show-Me State does have a texting while driving ban for people under 21, Missouri is one of two states without a ban for everyone. The other state without a ban, Montana, has many municipal regulations across the state. But Missouri law prevents municipalities from doing so.
Every year, Missouri legislators introduce bills to prohibit driving while using cellphones unless using hands-free technology; this year saw nine. But legislative roadblocks have stymied them all, year after year.
"Everyone wants to protect their loved ones," Feldman said. "But there's so much we're able to do to justify the cognitive dissonance between our beliefs and our actions. But at the end of the day, every excuse has thousands of lives attached to it."
It's long-past time for us as drivers and legislators to fully understand and anticipate the potential costs of distracted driving: responsibility for the death or injury of oneself, a loved one or a stranger.
Put down the phone when driving and pass legislation to ensure that there are consequences if we don't.
-- News Tribune