Northeast Coalition for Highway Safety engaging in multi-pronged approach to help end texting 'epidemic'

When a Missouri driver reaches the age of 22, they are allowed by state law to text while they drive.

The Show Me State is among three states that do not have a texting ban in place for drivers of all ages, but state legislators like Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Frankford), have sponsored bills aimed at changing the situation. Northeast Coalition for Highway Safety facilitator Marisa Ellison encouraged members of the group to show their support for laws that would ban texting for all drivers during their Thursday, Jan. 11 meeting in Hannibal. Ellison said the coalition has always set the goal on educating Missourians about the importance of buckling up. Now, the Buckle Up Phone Down campaign takes on a new theme for 2018 — “New Year, no texting and driving — one resolution to live by in 2018.”

Ellison said nearly 3,000 residents and businesses pledged to limit their cell phone use while they’re driving through the Buckle Up Phone Down campaign. Amid the passage of several bills dealing with texting while driving, she called on fellow residents to reach out and help reach “some strength in law in Missouri that limits cell phone use while driving.”

“While our focus is always going to be on wearing a seat belt and getting a primary seat belt law passed, texting has become an epidemic,” Ellison said. “We are really encouraging anyone who believes that texting and driving is a bad idea or is an unsafe idea, to please contact our legislators.”

Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Eric Brown noted it is important to track the progress of each piece of legislation, because some bills could end before they reach the Senate or House floor or merge with other bills.

Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Traffic Operations Engineer Rob Frese said that fatalities had dropped from 69 in 2016 to 49 fatalities in 2017, but he noted that there were more fatalities than there were in 2013 and 2014. Fatalities involving unrestrained motorists or passengers remained at 72 percent — considerably higher than the national figure of 64 percent. Brown said there were 32 deaths in 2017 — when the deaths were in the upper 20s “every single death in those traffic crashes were unrestrained fatalities” — explaining that some of the crashes included ATVs and other vehicles without a restraint.

“Buckling up can save lives,” Frese said.

Ellison said there were no fatalities from traffic crashes in Knox, Monroe and Schuyler counties during 2017. She said the counties would be recognized through the statewide and federal “Drive to Zero” roadway deaths campaign. The coalition is working with KRXL 94.5 FM in Kirksville and Area Scene internet radio on the educational “Drive Means Drive” campaign through public service announcements, Ellison said. December messages focused on speeding. January’s messages discuss impaired driving and messages focused on distracted driving will air in March, April and May.

Ellison said she looked forward to MoDOT’s future opportunities to share education about how to drive safely and avoid distractions at the C.H.A.R.T. Teen Task Force Teen Fair and the Kirksville Ag Fair. As the meeting came to a close, Ellison emphasized how important it was for everyone to contact legislators and show support for bills that contain some sort of ban on texting on Missouri roadways.

“With all of these bills being proposed, we see an opportunity to make something happen that can truly save lives — and that is this all driver texting ban,” she said.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com