The Missouri Department of Transportation is making efforts to promote safe driving, even as state laws lag behind.
There are no statewide statutes requiring the use of seat-belts or restricting cell phones, and currently drivers 22 and older are allowed to text behind the wheel.
In contrast, MoDOT currently has 14 ongoing campaigns to encourage road safety. The agency’s Kelly Jackson says the activity is necessary, given the lack of action by lawmakers.
“Without stricter laws, there’s not a whole lot we can do on that end, so we’re doing all that we can to educate people on what they need to do” said Jackson.
Among the safety efforts MoDOT has employed in the last few months is the “Buckle up-Phone down” campaign to promote seat belts and discourage cell phone use while driving.
A email blast advertising the campaign urged readers to join the movement. It also included numerous captions bearing statistics, such as “Only eight states rank lower in seat belt use than Missouri” and “Texting increases the risk of a car crash by 50%”.
Another campaign modeled after a national effort, “Click It Or Ticket”, would seem to have less teeth in Missouri.
Currently, wearing a seat belt is only a secondary law in in the state, meaning it’s not enforceable unless a driver is pulled over for breaking a primary law. Jackson contends the policy is flawed and unsafe.
“In a roll-over crash on the interstate, it’s a primary law to have your license plate lit, but it’s not a primary law to wear your safety belt. In that rollover crash, would you rather have your license plate lit, or would you rather have your safety belt on. It’s really something to think about.”
There’s been little movement in the legislature to stiffen the state’s seat belt law in recent years. Missouri is one of 15 states which still don’t enforce usage as a primary law. Not wearing one currently carries a $10 fine when the law’s secondary status is enforced.
Currently 54 municipalities and counties, encompassing roughly 24 percent of the state’s population, have passed their own primary ordinances. According to MoDOT, St. Louis was the first to do so in 2007. New York was the first state to require seat belt usage in 1968.
MoDOT is also a strong proponent of stiffer texting laws. Missouri is one of only four states which allow the practice behind the wheel.
Jackson said texting is likely a major contributor to distracted driving accidents, which totaled 17,000 last years in Missouri.
“The Highway Patrol does tell us that texting and driving crashes are under-reported because not everybody’s going to admit to that when they have a crash” said Jackson. “They do feel that it’s very under-reported and it will be lopped into that distracted driving category.”
A bill to prohibit texting behind the wheel unless hands-free technology is used has failed to advance in the Missouri House this year.
As part of its focus on road safety, MoDOT disallows its employees to uses cell phones in any capacity while on the job and encourages other agencies to establish the same policy.