Highway safety issues are a top priority in 2018 for a bipartisan group of Missouri mayors.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James speaks to the Capitol Press Corps in Jefferson City on February 14, 2018 (Brian Hauswirth photo)

A group known as “Missouri Mayors United for Progress” met Wednesday at Jefferson City’s Capitol Plaza Hotel, and they elected Kansas City Mayor Sly James as president of the organization.

James, who was a military policeman in the United States Marine Corps, is focused on safety issues.

“So I fully support a bill that will make it absolutely mandatory, subject to a fine, for not buckling up your seat belt and for texting on the phone while you’re driving,” James tells the Capitol Press Corps.

Missouri’s 21st century transportation system task force has recommended a primary seat belt law and a ban on texting while driving.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) says cell phones contributed to 2,470 Missouri crashes in 2016, and that you are 23 times more likely to be in a crash when a driver texts and drives.

MoDOT says passing a primary seat belt law would save 43 lives and prevent about 530 serious injuries each year.

Mayor James says traffic fatalities are increasing in Kansas City.

“What we find is that in almost 80 percent of those fatal accidents, it is with somebody who is not buckled,” says James.

State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, has filed a primary seat belt law, which would allow police officers to enforce the law as a stand-alone offense.

Reiboldt’s bill has not been scheduled for a hearing, at this time.

Under current Missouri law, drivers cannot be stopped solely to determine seat belt compliance. Under Reiboldt’s legislation, those caught not wearing a seat belt would be cited for an infraction and subject to a fine “not to exceed ten dollars.”

The Missouri Mayors United for Progress are also supporting MoDOT’s buckle up/phone down initiative, which is aimed at getting you to wear your seat belt and to put your phone down while driving.

Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin has led the effort to promote the campaign, which is known as BUPD on electronic message boards across the state.

“Six out of ten people killed in Missouri traffic crashes were unbuckled in 2017,” Tergin says. “Only nine states ranked lower than Missouri in safety belt use.”

MoDOT says that from 2014 to 2016, 62 percent of all drivers and passengers killed in crashes were unrestrained.

James and the other mayors also addressed the importance of helping cities, during Wednesday’s news conference.

James says cities and towns are Missouri’s economic engines.

“And we are very much in wanting to make sure that the (state) legislators here know who we are and know that we’re going to be active,” says James.

James says the mayors will be vocal and aggressive, in trying to get lawmakers to approve their agenda.

“(We) won’t be disrespectful, but we need to make sure that they’re paying attention to our needs, not political rhetoric and ideologies,” James says.

James and Tergin were joined at the news conference by about 25 other mayors, including Springfield Mayor Ken McClure and Florissant Mayor Tom Schneider.

Several rural mayors also participated.